With Intel Tech, A Singapore Coffee Shop Builds a Robot Barista

At Crown Coffee, a small-yet-homey coffee bar in downtown Singapore, the barista never gets your order wrong.

At Crown Coffee, a small-yet-homey coffee bar in downtown Singapore, the barista never gets your order wrong. Ella is her name and with uncanny consistency she makes a perfect cup of coffee every time.

Ella is not human, but a fully autonomous robot barista. Named after the wife of Crown Coffee’s CEO and founder Keith Tan, Ella is a six-axis robot that runs on a constellation of Intel parts: an Intel® Movidius™ vision processing unit, the Intel® Distribution of OpenVINO™ toolkit, and Intel® Xeon® and Intel® Core™ processors. Intel tech powers everything Ella does: taking orders remotely via an online app, making your cup of coffee, notifying you when it’s ready, serving it, finalizing your bill and charging your credit card.

The idea behind Ella naturally started over coffee. Two years ago, Tan spotted a group of Intel Singapore employees having lunch in his shop. He greeted the group and pitched what he called at the time a “completely wild idea.” The group, part of Intel’s Sales and Marketing Group, connected Tan with the right Intel teams – and the rest is coffee history.

“I have plenty of gratitude to Intel, as they helped me realize this idea,” Tan said. “They listened to me, understood the problems I was trying to solve and partnered with me to design and develop prototypes.”

Ella solves many of Tan’s challenges. First, the compact unit takes up a fraction of the space required for a traditional coffee bar, which translates into a cheaper retail footprint. Next, Tan is able to guarantee quality and consistency in every cup served. And Ella frees up labor, allowing Tan to reassign his staff to other in-store tasks like greeting customers or cleaning. But perhaps most important during the COVID-19 pandemic, customers are assured of safety as Ella operates in a sealed chamber. No human interacts with the product from the moment it’s made to when it’s served hot.

Ella the fully autonomous robot barista at Crown Coffee in Singapore runs on a constellation of Intel parts: Intel Movidius vision processing unit, the Intel Distribution of OpenVINO toolkit, and Intel Xeon and Intel Core processors. (Credit: Intel Corporation)

“I had an Americano, and it was amazing,” said Santhosh Viswanathan, who works for Intel in Singapore. “Ella opens new possibilities to food retailers to enable contactless futuristic service and develop alternate revenue models with the data Ella gathers.”

Tan and his team are planning to scale the solution to 40 other locations across Singapore, then to Japan and the rest of the world. “What we are doing is transformational and will be part of the landscape of smart cities where AI-driven robots become deeply ingrained into our daily lives. Also, this is New Retail, which eases retail labor shortages while providing re-skilling employment opportunities for value-added technology and engineering people,” said Tan, citing location examples like kiosks at busy train stations.

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