Every year, San Francisco’s DNA Lounge hosts the Cocktail Robotics Grand Challenge. This annual event exists solely for makers to show off their robotic bartending machines, and is basically a Maker Faire for the kinds of people who enjoy a nice labor-free adult beverage. Exhibitors are free to express their creativity, so long as their creations are capable of automatically making alcoholic drinks. Donald Bell built a robotic cocktail machine for last year’s challenge. While this year’s event was canceled due to COVID-19, Bell decided to go ahead and assemble another machine anyway. The result is this VK-01 Off-World Bartender inspired by Blade Runner.
1982’s Blade Runner, which was based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, is one of the most iconic science fiction films of all time. It is responsible for introducing a great deal of the cyberpunk aesthetic we know and love today. It’s that aesthetic that makes the VK-01 Off-World Bartender stand out. The whole purpose of a cocktail robot is to take all of the work out of preparing a drink, but Bell felt that interactivity was the key to an engaging experience. For that reason, thirsty customers have to first insert an ID card into the machine. Then, after placing their cup on the appropriate platform, they have to enter the appropriate code sequence using a numeric keypad.
That interactivity, along with the machine’s primary drink-mixing functionality, necessitated the use of a lot of hardware. That includes two single-board computers (a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B and a Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+), a Parallax RFID reader, an Adafruit Feather Huzzah ESP8266, an Adafruit ItsyBitsy 32u4, an Adafruit DC & Stepper Motor HAT, NeoPixel rings and sticks, and an audio amplifier board. The display is an official Raspberry Pi 7” touchscreen LCD. A total of eight 12V DC peristaltic pumps are used to dispense liquor and mixers. The industrial design concept was sketched by Bell's friend Jim Burke, and the enclosure was then constructed from a combination of wood and 3D-printed parts. The finished VK-01 Off-World Bartender is one of the coolest looking cocktail robots we’ve ever seen, and we’re sure it makes some pretty tasty drinks, too.