Austin startup brings robotic baristas to the Drag

February 6, 2018

An Austin startup is bringing robotics to the Drag to make your morning coffee.

Briggo, a coffee shop inside of Moojo’s on Guadalupe, opened last month. However, the coffee shop is completely automated, and instead of talking to a barista, customers order through an app.

Briggo founder Chas Studor said that when a customer orders a coffee, the app sends it to a cloud-based infrastructure, or a virtual system accessed by the internet. It then converts the order into a format that the machine can read and sends it the message. according to Briggo founder Chas Studor. Next, the “master controller” in the coffee machine begins to coordinate all of the machinery in order to make the drinks.

“This master controller is monitoring everything that’s going on inside and divvying up the work that needs to be done to make these drinks as efficiently as possible,” Studor said.

As the machine is making the drink, the master controller must synchronize various processes. For example, Studor said, if someone orders a vanilla latte, the machine must balance grinding the coffee, frothing and heating the milk and adding the exact amount of vanilla syrup, all in the correct order. After finishing the drink, the machine then puts a lid on it and checks that all of the processes happened correctly before alerting the customer that the drink is ready, Studor said.

“All along in this, the master controller is monitoring every subsystem within the machine and making sure that everything is safe and clean and at the right pressures and temperatures to make the drinks,” Studor said. “All that data is coming back up to the cloud so we can see what the environment was for your particular drink as well as a lot of data around your drink itself.”

Studor, who used to design computer chips, said he got the idea when he wanted to start a restaurant but decided that the restaurant business wasn’t for him and decided to start a coffee shop instead.

At the time, around 2007, Redbox was beginning to disrupt Blockbuster by automating the video rental process, and Chipotle was allowing people to customize their food by adding the ingredients they want, Studor added.

“I was thinking, if we could tie a lot of these macrotrends in how consumers are working and apply that to specialty coffee, maybe we could create something that was more of this century in terms of the overall experience,” Studor said. “So I just started exploring, what would I do in robotics to make specialty coffee?”

Briggo previously had a test run in 2011 at the Flawn Academic Center on the UT campus, and although the machines had issues with the amount of drinks they could make and the amount of human involvement needed, Studor said they got valuable feedback from students.

“It was a nice proof of (concept),” Studor said. “At that point in 2011, it wasn’t clear that people were going to buy coffee over the phone, (so) we had to prove it to ourselves that they would.”

In addition to gathering feedback, Briggo also worked with students from the McCombs School of Business who did a semester-long project about marketing to UT students, Studor said. This semester, another group of students in the Masters of Science in Marketing program will be working with Briggo as part of their capstone class, according to Masters of Science in Marketing Program director Jade DeKinder. In their project, the students will help Briggo with its marketing strategies, and this will give the students a chance to use what they learn in the classroom, DeKinder said.

“Business degrees are applied sciences, we can talk about the theory and learn about statistics, but until we actually apply them in the setting where students are trying to learn about it, it’s hard to see all the nuances and the potential roadblocks and hurdles that they’re going to come across,” DeKinder said. “When they get to do the data collection and see the data come back in and see how imperfect it is in the real world, and then how you still have to make these trade-off decisions and investment decisions and marketing decisions in that actual environment, I think it’s incredibly valuable for them to learn in that way.”

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