Back in December, my big prediction was that 2019 would be a breakout year for food robots. While neither Rosey nor Robbie are common sites at your local restaurant, we aren’t that far off from that prediction coming true, and a startup called Botrista is looking to accelerate the automated food trend.

Robots like Flippy and Cafe X already cook burgers and sling cappuccinos, but Sean Hsu, Co-Founder and CEO of Botrista, thinks those robots are too expensive for most restaurants. “Our belief is if we can find a robot that is $3,000 – $15,000 dollars,” Hsu told me by phone, “that will be a massive opportunity for restaurant owners.”

To that end, Botrista has created a robotic drink dispenser named, appropriately enough, Drinkbot. Drinkbot is a hardware/software solution for restaurants looking to expand their drink options. The dispensing hardware connects to a library of hundreds of drink recipes (mocktails, juices, fusion teas, etc) in Botrista’s cloud, and restaurants can choose anywhere from 6 – 20 drinks they want to serve at a given time.

The hook with Botrista is that the hardware is free. Restaurants pay per drink and for the ingredients, which are ordered through Botrista. It costs restaurants anywhere from $1.40 – $1.90 per drink, depending on what the restaurant chooses. Hsu then recommends that restaurants sell those drinks for anywhere from $4 to $8.

At first, Botrista toyed with the idea of building a real-world shop around Drinkbot, a la Creator. “But then there’s too much overhead,” Hsu said.

Instead, Hsu and Co. realized that every restaurant sells drinks, and this would be a way for them to offer something other than the sugar-filled sodas people are steadily shunning. “Every restaurant needs a drink solution,” said Hsu.

But the drinks are just a foot in the door for Botrista. The company’s ultimate goal is to improve the overall experience of eating out. Hsu reasons that if they improve food production while reducing that cost, restaurants can then take the money that would normally go towards labor and put it towards better ingredients or better customer service.

It’s an argument you hear from almost all the food robot companies. Robots can take over repetitive, mundane or dangerous jobs (without taking breaks) and free up humans to do higher-skill tasks. That may be true, and it also has bigger societal repercussions like human unemployment, which is a heavy and heady topic requiring its own post.

While Hsu wouldn’t get into specifics on the type of food-related robots he is working on, he certainly has the chops to work with robots at scale. Hsu was a engineer for Tesla, working on the assembly robots that built the Model S, X and 3.

Right now, Botrista has only raised an angel round of funding, and is running a few pilots in the Bay Area. But the company is one we’ll definitely keep our eye on as its hardware + software + ingredients model is carving out a new space somewhere in the cracks between Flippy, Cafe X and Creator. Will free hardware and pay-per-use be the model that kickstarts more robots in restaurants? It’s too soon to make that prediction.

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