BUDAPEST – Science fiction has already envisaged a future in which robots act as companions and assistants, but the time has already come to one cafe in the Hungarian capital where electronic waiters serve up the food and drink.
At the Enjoy Budapest Cafe, created by IT company E-Szoftverfejlesztö, seven robots greet the customers, serve orders and play games to keep guests entertained.
The “waiters” move around the place silently, delivering coffee and meals to tables on trays before returning to the counter to attend the next order when touched on the arm.
Humans take the orders, but after that it is up to the machines that are part of a digital model experiment, according to owner Tibor Csizmadia.
With music playing in the background and the noise of the coffee machines, the robots would not be able to take or understand verbal orders.
“For now, physical contact is the only way of interacting (with the robots), and as part of the experiment we’re carrying out we’re also analyzing what kind of communication people look for when interacting with the robot,” said Csizmadia.
The fact that these are humanoid robots with faces, a body and arms is what makes this place so unusual.
In one corner of the bar a robot named Pepper is busy entertaining children – and also adults – with games and dancing.
Pepper was invented in France and later acquired by a Japanese company that now manufactures the robot in China.
It has an “expressive face,” something it manages by moving its head and with lights that change color around its eyes.
“Pepper is very nice,” a 10-year-old child, who was at the cafe having a drink with his mother, tells EFE.
In the window, another robot tries to attract passersby.
Those who are most into it are children and, curiously, older people.
“A 104-year-old guest celebrated his saint’s day here,” the owner said.
The robots are not taking away anyone’s job, according to Csizmadia, who dismisses the general impression that androids and automation poses a threat to the labor market.
“In reality it creates more work,” he said, adding that “employing” robots brings in more customers – because of the novelty factor – which in turn generates new vacancies.
“It’s a paradox: workers disappear where new technology isn’t applied,” said Csizmadia, who works with several Hungarian universities on a project whose goal is to develop robots for the European market.
The cafe fulfills two objectives: making good coffee that brings people in and carrying out a live experiment that they are able to analyze. The owners also develop robots.
According to forecasts, it will take another two or three decades until robots appear at home as real assistants.