Coffee break? Check out Singapore's first fully automated robot barista

Singapore's first fully automated robot barista, Ella, brews and serves coffee behind a transparent screen in a contactless set-up. Users have to download the Crown Coffee mobile app to order drinks. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Singapore's first fully automated robot barista, Ella, brews and serves coffee behind a transparent screen in a contactless set-up. Users have to download the Crown Coffee mobile app to order drinks. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

She is a barista with a very strong arm.

And, from yesterday, "Ella", Singapore's first fully automated robot barista, has been serving customers their caffeine fixes at an unmanned outlet at CT Hub 2 in Lavender.

Crown Group, which launched the outlet under its food and beverage arm Crown Coffee, said it was developed in an effort to push automation and reduce physical interactions in the light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ella, named after Crown Group founder and chief executive Keith Tan's wife, served a range of hot drinks to Minister of State for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling and members of the media at a launch event last Friday.

In a speech at the event, Ms Low, who is also Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, emphasised the importance of digitalisation and automation in navigating the pandemic, and zoomed in on Ella as a solution that creates opportunity from chaos.

"While Covid-19 has severely impacted our businesses and economy, it has also created the impetus for us to build stronger business capabilities and seek out new growth opportunities," she said.

Crown Coffee's new robot barista is able to make up to 200 cups of coffee an hour. It joins a host of new innovations spurred by Covid-19, such as cleaning robots.

Ella brews and serves coffee behind a transparent screen in a contactless set-up. Users have to download the Crown Coffee mobile app to order drinks, from $4 each.

Developed by Crown Group's technology arm Crown Digital, Ella is Mr Tan's response to the cost pressures of training and retaining human workers, and a pre-emptive answer to digital disruption.

 
 
 

"We need to disrupt ourselves, as opposed to waiting for things to change," said the former wealth manager, who started Crown Group in 2016 to follow his passion for coffee.

Ella has been in development since 2017, when the first prototype was built.

Mr Tan, 40, said Ella is part of his company's aim to serve consistent, barista-quality coffee to more people conveniently.

He added: "Ella's main application will be in high-traffic areas like MRT stations or airports. Imagine you're on your way to work and you order your coffee from the mobile app, and when you get to the station your coffee is waiting for you."

Crown Group is currently seeking funding to expand Ella across Singapore and beyond, said a spokesman.

Asked about the costs involved compared with employing human baristas, Mr Tan said that it will take some time for any savings from automation to accrue.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 04, 2020, with the headline 'Coffee break? Check out S'pore's first fully automated robot barista'. Print Edition | Subscribe