On the terrace top floor of The View Hotel, which – as the name says – has quite a view over Milan’s epicentre, the Duomo and the homonymous Piazza, in a hot summer evening, everybody is looking at the bar. It’s not some crave for refreshment or a flair bartending show – does anybody remember of Tom Cruise in Cocktail? – that’s attracting the stare, but the precise dance of the two mechanical arms of Makr Shakr, the robotic bar launched in 2014 by Carlo Ratti Associati which has just been installed here. Over the last years, Makr Shakr’s robotic arms have served over 1 million of cocktail, with peaks of 800 per night. It’s a completely automated and intelligent bar system, with bottles hanging from the ceiling – up to 150 –, an integrated ice casket and even a counter, where customers pick up the even customized drinks they ordered with a dedicated app, which connects directly to the bar’s artificial brain.
After the Bionic Bar, which has been serving cocktails on Royal Caribbean cruise ships, in malls and hotels internationally, the company launched Toni, the first robotic bartender for the mass market. The one installed in Milan is an upgraded model, a smarter one, with the two arms programmed to solve different tasks, while in the older version they did the same stuff. Now, they work a bit more like the human left and right arms. The system is as fast (or as slow) as a human bartender, but in the future, it could get more productive. The main complaint? Makr Shakr can only serve drinks in plastic cups. And sometimes they lack that kind of “human” touch that only a professional – and not a customer using an app – adds up. But to look at the arms moving it’s a joy for the eyes, and maybe in the future this kind of machine will become pretty common in places where an “industrial” consumption of cocktails – or wine, or beer – happens most of the nights, like at Karlovy lázně, the hyper-famous Prague club where it the robotic bar system was recently installed. Industrial versions of Makr Shakr’s bars can be also found aboard six Royal Caribbean cruise ships, while other editions can be seen in the US (Las Vegas and Biloxi), and France. One unit is also at the Barbican, as part of AI: More than Human Exhibition.