Earlier this year, Boston Dynamic’s Spot, a Black Mirror-esque robotic dog helped to enforce social distancing at Bishan Park (without the threat of evisceration). Another made rounds at a crowded dormitory, blaring out warnings. Before that, robots have held court in certain kitchens – Studio M hotel’s viral omelette flipper comes to mind. Well, as of October 2, the six-axis-armed robot barista ELLA of Crown Coffee has joined their ranks.

Designed by Crown Digital, the smart retail arm of traditional Italian coffeeshop Crown Coffee, ELLA X is the fifth edition of the robotic barista and the first commercial standalone model to be unveiled, right next to Crown Coffee’s CT Hub 2 branch.

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ELLA and its predecessors were designed to solve a key problem for Crown Coffee when they first started in 2017, says Keith Tan, CEO of Crown Group. Scalability was compromised due to inconsistent quality and lack of labour a problem further exacerbated when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. For the first time, customer touch points became an issue. And that’s where ELLA comes in.

Keith Tan

The robotic barista isn’t a greenhorn when it comes to making a great cup of joe. ELLA, in its various forms, has served over 80,000 cups of coffee at over 40 events. And unlike its human counterparts, each cup served by subsequent versions of the barista were perfectly identical, while building on the experiences of earlier models.

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Those thousands of hours of R&D are what gave birth to ELLA X as we know it now. First off, it’s fully self-contained and everything from payment to ordering, works off the Crown Coffee app. It’s also ready to go 24/7 – perfect for a late night cappuccino, americano or teh tarik if you happen to be in the area (don’t ask us how a robot arm pulls the tea).

While your automated barista is preparing your drink, the same screen you interact with doubles up as an augmented reality photo booth or gaming station. It could even serve up a side of dynamic advertising – though it’d be hard to replicate the morning banter with your usual barista.

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ELLA’s true power though, isn’t in its customer-facing robotic claws. Instead, it’s best able to help with the business side of things: as it turns out, robot baristas have pretty good memory. ELLA – and in the future, a fleet of ELLAs deployed islandwide – is able to review and predict consumption patterns to a tee. Think deep learning and predictive analytics to always get a new shipment of beans at exactly the right time – helping companies save money, as well as improving the consumer experience.

Says Tan, “We designed ELLA for coffee, but the reality is that with a bit of programming, ELLA could

exist to serve other types of food and beverage products. I truly believe that ELLA is the future, and we’re closer to the future than you think.”

Hopefully, a part of that future is (amusingly) misspelling names on coffee cups – something ELLA might be hard-pressed to trump its human competitors at. Maybe something to consider for ELLA 6.0?