Partnering with Coca Cola, Bacardi, MIT and Pentagram for the Google I/O conference, how could we render a display that at once disrupts millennial social norms, begs participants to question the role of machines in contemporary culture, and poses the right questions about how people will adapt and behave as robots increasingly serve our needs
Our answer was the data visualization, design and technology integration for Makr Shakr, an installation that uses robotic barmen to mix drinks in various crowd-sourced combinations. Conference attendees downloaded the Makr Shakr app on their handheld devices and watched as their desired cocktails were crafted by three KUKA robots and delivered via conveyor belt. As the drinks were prepared, a digital display behind the bar showed the queue of drinks in the works, profiles of the users, and the precise mixture of ingredients in their drinks, as well as what cocktails and ingredients were trending across the crowd. This social experiment defies the rules and traditions of conventional bars and parties by allowing technology to play a role in consumption while also broadcasting back the crowd. Further, by eliminating lines and offering order and organized behavior to the often-chaotic world of the bar, Makr Shakr forces participants to imagine a world where robots serve human needs, wants and desires… and where humans shape their behavior to suit the demands of the robots!
At the beginning there were a lot of limitations regarding resolution, interaction and movement that made the design look the way it did. Our job was focused on motion design and making the graphical assets come to life. The main inspiration is based on machine design and trying to integrate the animal-like behavior of robots into the viz’ language. The main challenge in this project was the communication between so many elements and with so many people spread out throughout the world. There were people in New York, Rio, Boston, Milan, and Turino. They had Pentagram making the web app and feeding them the design elements; CIA was working with the robots and they needed to create a fluid way to send information to the robots; the drinks needed to be made in synch with the visualization, which was displayed behind the robots.
Imagine if every time you went to a bar your margarita always tasted the same. No surprise element created by the bartender? At the same time, since this machine, which can create infinite combinations, is preparing your drink, really interesting things could happen with crowd sourcing and social collaboration. Actual people could be responsible for this surprise element from now on. In a sense, everyone becomes a bartender and the best drinks become the most popular and can be shared through social media and other instances. The drinks made by the robots actually taste better, but they are standardized. You will always get the same exact amount, combination, and end mix. This may be better for some people, but for other it may be worse because it takes away the surprise element.
The most interesting part of this project is not the robots or the artificial intelligence. This is a crazy social experiment that defies the laws and traditions that have been established in bars and parties. It brings this environment into a total state of order and organized behavior. No more crazy lines or people fighting over who was there first, no more great looking girls that get to drink for free or get the bartender’s attention first, no more priority. I’m not saying that this is positive or negative, but it will definitely be interesting to see what type of new social norms and dynamics are created out of this experiment. How will people behave and adapt when robots serve us?