What would it be like if a cold drink arrived in your hands, within minutes, when thirst strikes? If you're at the airport or in a shopping center and don't have to look around for a vending machine, but could have a refreshing drink brought directly to you instead?
Coca-Cola is currently testing a service robot in our offices in Berlin, Germany. I have met the prototype – and, I have to say, I like it!
My new colleague is a mere meter tall, he’s a little cold to the touch and doesn’t say much. But despite all this, I know just a few minutes into our first encounter that I don't want to ever let him go. Our paths crossed today as I returned from lunch, stuffed to the gills with lasagne, and feeling pretty thirsty. He glides past me very smoothly, barely making a sound. While I stop in wonder, he continues to glide toward the reception area, where he finally comes to a halt in front of a woman sitting on the sofa.
There, he patiently lets her touch his robot belly, which responds by delivering a chilled can of Coca-Cola. Turning on his heels (or should I say wheels?), he whirrs away. I take pursuit. I have a feeling this may be an encounter of immense importance.
'Name’s Robot, Service Robot. What Can I Get You?'
I run into him again in a conference room. The word "GoCart" is imprinted on his chest. GoCart is surrounded by a six-member team clearly ecstatic about the task he has just completed. And right in the middle of it all, a couple of my colleagues take the lid off the robo-riddle.
The core question is: How can Coca-Cola improve its service?
Vending machines are fantastic, and it's hard to imagine life without them. However, they have one big disadvantage: they are in a fixed place and tend not to be where thirst strikes! A chance meeting in 2014 came at exactly the right time at an electronics trade fair. Members of the R&D team at Yujin Robot, a South Korean robotics company, were presenting their newest invention: a robot designed to handle service tasks in hospitals or assisted living facilities, from delivering fresh linens to meals and medication. Right away, the concept resonated with my colleagues, and soon the question of whether GoCart would be able to transport cold drinks at public locations such as train stations or shopping centers was being discussed. A few months later, a trial run was set for Coca-Cola Germany’s offices in Berlin.
How Does the Robot Know Where I Am?
Now it's my turn. I want the robot to bring me a Coca-Cola. But how does it work exactly? Gabi, my colleague, explains it to me. By using a function of the GetHappy-App from Coca-Cola, I call GoCart and order my drink of choice. GoCart finds my location through this app, stocks up with a chilled drink from the storeroom, and heads out to find me. In the meantime, I receive a code on my smartphone that will allow me to open the door on the robot's body when he arrives.
GoCart whizzes by, stops briefly in front of me and – what a cheek! – and yawns loudly when I don‘t immediately react. I hurry to enter the code, and seconds later I’m holding the can of Coke in my hand! To me, it’s a miracle how this robot can find his way to me without ever bumping into any walls or colliding with colleagues. The engineers from Yujin have the answers to my questions: two stereoscopic cameras, two 3D sensors and several technical tricks I’ll never understand. Plus – and this is really quite charming – they had initially walked him around the building, so he could get used to his surroundings and create a “floor plan” in his computer brain. Cute, right?
Is the robot a “he” or a “she”? I ask. The engineer smiles before responding: "We used to have a small prototype once – that was a she. This model here is larger and stronger, so I guess it’s a ‘he.’"
Whether Coca-Cola will one day make commercial use of drink robots remains to be seen. At the moment, there is nothing in the Germany beverage market that fits so smoothly and seamlessly into our mobile world.
Regardless of the outcome of this first test run, I’ve made up my mind: My little friend GoCart did a pretty good job today.
Leane Zaborowski is editor of Coca-Cola Journey Germany.
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