Good news: There’s apparently something called the Cocktail Robotics Grand Challenge, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Bad news: This year’s edition got canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But that hasn't stopped creators from showing off their drink slingin' machines online for those of us looking for any excuse to booze it up at home.
Donald Ball of Maker Project Lab intended to enter this year’s contest with a contraption inspired by the sci-fi classic, Blade Runner, imagining a cocktail assistant as designed by the same Voight-Kampff company responsible for the human / replicant testing device used in the original film. The result is the VK-01 Off-World Bartender, and it's a piece of retrowave perfection, complete with smoky neon-lighting, analog buttons, and a video screen featuring vintage ads of Orson Welles hawking Japanese whiskey set to the Shinjuku subway station jingle.
Pretty great, whether you're a human or a rogue replicant, right? And if that isn’t nifty enough, Ball uploaded another video showcasing the time and energy that went into making his prototype, revealing he’s spent over eight months working on getting everything running smoothly.
More dystopian drink dispensers, please — Thankfully, the VK-01 isn't a one-of-a-kind machine, provided you have the free time, materials, and inclination to make one yourself.
“What I’ve unintentionally done here is make a drink machine that you can skin however you like,” Ball explains in the second video.
Build your own — Ball also posted his detailed plans on Instructables for anyone dedicated enough to make their own cyberpunk beverage dispenser, although he admits it’s “a bit of a beast” to construct, requiring (among other ingredients) two Raspberry Pi’s, two Arduinos, one ESP 8266 board, as well as access to a 3D printer and laser etcher. Thankfully, Ball already troubleshot most of the harder design problems for us, including getting the machine to actually know when a cup is or isn't in place and ready for booze. Which, you know, is kinda important.
"Initially I had a lot of lofty ideas on how to achieve this with distance sensors (IR, ultrasonic, break-beam, I tried them all). None of them proved reliable when you account for the fact that there's no guarantee what kind of cup or glass you’ll be using, or how light or dark the environment will be," wrote Ball on Instructables. "When in doubt, keep it simple. I went with a switch under a 3D printed tray. Provided the glass had at least one ice cube in it (which this drink benefits from), even the lightest plastic cup is heavy enough to trigger the switch."
There's nothing simple about this. But with the pandemic set to keep us indoors until next year, we might just have found our next project to start and — in all honesty — likely fail to finish. We should probably be realistic, save ourselves the trouble, and just buy Firebox's $166 Blade Runner whiskey glasses instead.