According to IDC, spending on robotics will reach $94 billion in 2018, but the vast majority of those robots – 70 percent, in fact – will be ones used in industrial applications. The other 30% is split between service and consumer applications where, by and large, the use cases are still often being fleshed out.
And while there are plenty of contentious applications for robots, some Senate Republicans are taking issue with one in particular, those automated bartenders sometimes referred to as ‘beerbots.’ But not, it seems, because they have any problems with the concept of getting a beer without having to make small talk. Specifically, they are taking issue with beerbot research that’s being funded by the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation.
Arizona Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain have drafted an amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act that seeks to prevent the government from using tax dollars on robotic bartender R&D.
In 2016, an MIT research team was awarded a $2 million grant for work on a "cooperative beer delivery robots project" where a double-armed robot would retrieve beer and pass it off to other robots serving as “waiters.”
Senator Flake called the spending “willy-nilly” and whether or not you agree, he does raise a good point: beerbot technology is already taking a foothold in the private sector, so the need for government funding might not be there.
But hear me out for a minute… what if the beerbot research isn’t really about the beer, but about research towards the automation technology underpinning it?
For their part, MIT said the project was about learning how robots could interact and “cooperatively solve a problem.” So maybe the workaround is to find a loophole, and trade those beer cans for soup cans.