The cafe is quiet and lifeless in the late afternoon, aside from one lonely human sweeping the floor. A row of tablets display simple menus of espresso drinks, or warm milk — no food, at least not yet. The main attraction sits in the back, patiently waiting for an order so it can spring to life. A large robotic arm behind a glass wall does the heavy lifting here, and once a drink order is placed and prepared, it gently picks up the cup and puts it on a small moving platform, delivering it to a waiting customer who hasn’t had to speak a word. The robot arm waves, and you can wave back, or not. It probably won’t mind either way.
That’s Cafe X, the automated mini cafe that just opened up its second location in San Francisco about a month ago. It’s a far more important step for the cafe — whereas the first location was tucked away in the Metreon shopping center and out of the way of passersby on the street, the new location occupies prime real estate — a spot on Market Street, the main thoroughfare that runs through the heart of downtown San Francisco. It’s a location that won’t escape the notice of San Franciscans and tourists alike, especially when they see the huge robot arm toiling away in the back.
Here’s how it works — customers stroll in and use one of the handful of kiosks to make an order. The menus are mostly filled with basic coffee and espresso drinks like mochas and cappuccinos, although hot chocolate, matcha lattes, and warm milk can also be ordered. Select which beans and how much syrup, if any, you want, pay with card, and the robot starts to do its thing.
The drinks are prepared behind a glass enclosure, behind the big robotic arm at the heart of Cafe X. Once the drinks are ready, the arm swings around, grabs the cup, and sets it down on a little platform. At that point, customers get a text message with a four-digit code — tap that into one of the screens in front of the robot, and the platform will be lowered so you can grab your drink and go. No human interaction required, although depending on the time of day, there will be some employees around to help explain the process or, like our lonely friend in the late afternoon, sweep the floor.