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Baristas, Meet the Robot That Wants Your Job

The Briggo Coffee Haus

Photograph by Casey Dunn

The Briggo Coffee Haus

Baristas, beware: The robots are coming for your jobs.

We know by now that all sorts of occupations from factory worker to truck driver to journalist are being automated into obsolescence. Low-wage service jobs that can’t be shipped overseas were supposed to be safe. After all, your coffee shop isn’t moving to Shenzhen, and a robot can’t make your cappuccino, right?

Kevin Nater thinks it can. He’s chief executive officer of Briggo, a five-year-old Austin (Tex.) company that’s just installed its first fully automated coffee kiosk at the University of Texas campus there.

Don’t think of those barely drinkable instant-coffee packets in your office pantry. The Briggo Coffee Haus enlists “robotics to emulate the motions of a champion barista to precisely prepare specialty coffee drinks to your specifications,” according to the company’s website. Freshly steamed milk—soy, skim, or whole—included.

“We’re trying to give customers control of their coffee experiences,” Nater says. “We give a lot of customization opportunities.”

Customers can order through a touchscreen or the Briggo smartphone app and track wait times to see when their cup will be ready. Soon, Nater says, coffee drinkers will be able to schedule their orders, so a student on her way to a 9:30 a.m. class can have a latte waiting for her five minutes before.

The new Briggo machine installed this month at UT replaces an earlier prototype that Nater says was three times the size and required a human being to move the cups around. Reimagined by designer Yves Behar, the Briggo Coffee Haus is now fully robotic and sheathed in a wood veneer. Nater says making it look “gorgeous” is important to signal to customers that it’s closer to a fancy third-wave brew than vending-machine coffee. “It alludes to the Old World and a pretty comfortable place to go,” he says.

Briggo’s 20-person staff has two former Starbucks (SBUX) executives, including one who was at the coffee chain when it opened its seventh store. And Starbucks-scale ubiquity is exactly what Nater has in mind. “We see thousands of these things in the U.S.,” he says. Briggo has raised $11 million in funding.

For now, the UT campus is its only location. There’s another one planned for the Austin airport, and a “handful” of others on the way later this year, he says. Briggo is beginning with airports, hospitals, and corporate campuses to make gourmet coffee available 24 hours a day in spots where operating a real café is too costly or impractical. At UT, a real person is on hand for now to guide users unfamiliar with the machine, but Nater says the goal is for machines to run on their own. Briggo monitors the inventory of beans, milk, and other ingredients to replenish them as needed.

The new Briggo machine at UT got good marks on Yelp (YELP). “Love my robot coffee!” one reviewer wrote, though he noted that “it’s a little slow right now” and decaf isn’t an option. An earlier Yelp review of the old Briggo praised its mechanical skill: “The bot pulls shots to order the same way a good barista does (and far better than many of the bored hipsters you’ll find at the local coffee bar).”

Consider yourselves on notice, bored hipsters.

Tozzi is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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