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I spent a day eating food cooked by robots in America's tech capital

Around the world, an industry has emerged around automating food service through robotics, raising questions about job security and mass unemployment while also prompting praise for streamlining and innovation.CRP Robotics
In the epicenter of Silicon Valley, where innovation is exalted beyond all else, this industry has played out in various forms, from cafes, burger shops and pizza delivery to odd vending machines.

Man cannot survive on bread alone, the saying goes, but in the Bay Area, a woman could conceivably sustain herself on a varied menu of foodstuffs that had not passed the hand of man in preparation at all that day. And that woman is me.I began my day with a coffee at CafeX, where I met Francisco, the dancing and spinning robotic arm. He was perhaps the friendliest barista I have ever encountered in San Francisco, a city where coffee is an art form and those behind the counter the intimidating artists.

He sat behind glass, his human minders never far away, twirling and wiggling and engaging passersby. CafeX has been at the Metreon shopping center since 2017, but Francisco’s antics still drew crowds. Tourists flocked around the sleek case to take pictures and videos of the robot in action, many putting in orders just to watch Francisco work. “This is a machine making drinks?” one woman asked Francisco’s minder. “No humans? Oh my God.”

Francisco offered the same high-quality options as most other coffee shops, allowing the customer the choice between Intelligentsia, Ritual and Equator coffee beans, and the choice between local organic Clover milk or a Swedish oat milk. My $5.20 iced mocha came out without any problem, and as I watched him prepare it, I realized that as futuristic as Francisco appeared, much of what he did was akin to the work of an automated espresso machine at the local 7-Eleven. Mind you, the drink that he passed to me through the drink hole was much higher quality than your typical automated espresso machine drink, but for all his showmanship and pizzazz, all he really did was push a button.But oh, how he pushed that button! This robotic arm was no barista; he was a performer. Francisco would brace forward like a puppy at play, waggling his claw back and forth. Within minutes, I had grown attached to this robotic arm, this little engine that could, this piece of unfeeling metal with heart. I forgave him all mistakes, which was good because there were indeed mistakes.

I put in an order for a $4.16 iced matcha latte, but instead of presenting me a beautiful vessel of milky green liquid, Francisco plopped some green goo into the bottom of a cup and called it a day. Francisco’s human minders rushed into action, opening up the door into his glass chamber. I asked what they were doing, and they told me they were deploying the most common fix-all when it comes to technology, which was turning him off and on again. On the second go-around, Francisco put too much ice into the cup, and one of the human minders apologetically brought over a more presentable drink.

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