SINGAPORE - During the Covid-19 pandemic, robots were deployed to assist in safe distancing, cleaning and even carrying out nasal swab tests.
In the hard-hit food and beverage (F&B) industry, robotic baristas that can make coffee and cocktails are now being used.
Ratio, a robotic cafe and lounge by Singaporean company ROSS Digital, opened its first Singapore outlet at Centrepoint on November 2.
Here, three robots serve up anything from a traditional Nanyang Kopi to a spicy Tom Yum Martini.
Customers can fully customise their drinks using the Ratio app or the electronic ordering system, choosing the ingredients they prefer as well as the sweetness level.
Over at CT Hub 2 in Lavender, a fully autonomous robotic barista ELLA has been keeping customers well-caffeinated since September.
ELLA operates behind a transparent screen in a small kiosk beside Crown Coffee, and can brew up to 200 cups of cappuccino in an hour.
The Crown Coffee mobile app, developed during the circuit breaker, comes with its own payment gateway and e-wallet that allow customers to pre-order their drinks and earn rebates.
Both robots were conceived to solve common problems faced by the F&B sector, from high rents to a lack of manpower.
ELLA, developed by Crown Group's technology arm Crown Digital, now runs mostly on its own with one employee, compared to 12 previously.
While ELLA makes the drinks, the employee tops up the ingredients, does the cleaning, and doubles up as an on-site engineer.
"We are really optimising manpower. If this were a traditional cafe, someone has to make the coffee, collect payments, don't mix up the orders," said Crown Group founder and chief executive Keith Tan.
At Ratio, the staff, known as ratiologists, have a different role to play.
"Maybe you want a latte to be stronger, (or have) less milk, more sugar. So the staff can make the right recommendation to the consumer," said Ratio's head of operations Steve Teo.
Three staff work alongside the robots every day, adding the finishing touches to the drinks.
Lower manpower costs mean that drinks are priced more competitively, from $3 for a coffee and $11 for a cocktail.
Both firms are looking to expand their operations.
Mr Tan said ELLA will be scaled for high traffic locations like airports, train stations and offices.
"ELLA is designed for grab-and-go. So her value proposition is very distinct from a sit-down cafe. What customers really want is convenience, speed, so ELLA is perfect for that."
He added that the next step is to integrate ELLA with a delivery robot, and possibly expand the repertoire to food.
Meanwhile, Ratio has plans to make Nanyang Kopi a household name worldwide.
In Singapore, it intends to lease its robots to other F&B outlets, and target areas with co-working spaces.
But Ratio founder and CEO Gavin Pathross said that robots will not replace humans totally.
"We think that automation can go as far as assisting a chef or a human barista or bartender but I don't think it'll ever fully overtake the creative side of things."