The Bar Bot

The Bar Bot (2004) is a fully automated robot waiter, an art work by Time's Up it was shown during DEAF04.

The Bar Bot

The Bar Bot

Take a seat in the bar and order a drink from Bar Bot, the fully automated robot waiter. But be aware, this waiter is not here to quench your thirst. Motivated by self-interest, Bar Bot will do anything to get some money to buy beer...

Helena: No, you don't understand me. What we really want is to - to liberate the Robots.
Helman: How do you propose to do that?
Helena: They are to be dealt with like human beings.
Helman: Aha. I suppose they're to vote? To drink beer? To order us about?

(from the theatre play "R. U. R. - Rossum's Universal Robots" by Karel Capek)

Robots are usually designed to serve humans. In recent years robotics research has concentrated on robots that closely mimic essential human features. Thus Hondas humanoid robot P3 is capable of independently climbing a staircase, although 20 technicians are needed to keep it balanced. The Bar Bot, a fully automated robot waiter in the DEAF04 exhibition bar, raises the question of what exactly makes a robot human. At first sight Bar Bot looks like a normal robot there to serve bar guests, but its true nature quickly becomes apparent.

The Bar Bot can recognize bar guests with its special video camera eye. As soon as you stand in front of it, it asks you for money and holds out its hand. Then it calculates how much change it has received. If this is enough for a beer, it goes to the bar and orders one. The Bar Bot thus possesses a number of traits that are characteristic of people, such as social interaction, facial recognition and intelligence. It functions in the limited environment of the bar as an autonomous being; all that it lacks is a will of its own. But what would happen if the Bar Bot stopped serving humans and started serving itself?

The Bar Bot was designed to put this thought experiment into practice. Whereas robots always serve others, humans usually act out of self-interest, or in the interest of the social group to which they belong. The Bar Bot is equally egotistical. Driven by self-interest, it will do anything it can to get money for beer. Its goal, however, is not to quench our thirst, but get as much beer as possible inside itself. But to do this it depends on others. Open communication becomes vital, for only through social interaction can it get its hands on a beer. The Bar Bot may be the most human robot ever built.

Time's Up, (AT/AU) in collaboration with Humanoid Robotics Laboratory

Supported by:
Linz Kultur, Land Oeberoesterreich, BKA.Kunst, EU culture  2000 Program

(Text DEAF04, 2004)

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