The doors haven’t opened yet at he DNA Lounge in San Francisco but a line is already forming. At 5 p.m. on a Sunday it’s way too early
for the Death Guild goth night, but these
hipsters and techies have gotten here early
to have drinks served to them by the robot
bartenders of the future. At the Cocktail
Robotics Grand Challenge kooky inventors
and their booze-slinging bots compete for
$1,000 in prizes, but the whole thing starts
with a mechanized cocktail party.
“I saw something with a tentacle in
there,” one beardster said while we wait.
“Slimy or metal?” I asked.
He thinks about it for a minute and then
says that it was metal.
Once inside the club, I see the tentacle.
It’s sticking out of a box topped with Astro-turf and swinging around in circles. I’m not
sure how it can mix a martini and I don’t
spend too much time trying to find out.
On the other side of the dance floor from
the tentacle is the Tiki Tron. Looking like
a cross between an Easter Island statue
and the muddy volcano from Peter Brady’s
science experiment from The Brady Bunch,
the Tiki Tron is “the world’s only robot that
serves Tiki cocktails,” according to the plac-
ard next to it. Computer consultant Samuel
Coniglio, aka Dr. Bombay, beckons me
to “make a sacrifice” to the pagan god he
invented, which I do by dropping a carved
wooden idol into the top of the volcano.
Each idol is embedded with a radio-fre-quency identification (RFID) chip that tells
the Tiki Tron which fruity cocktail to make.
I sacrifice the idol with the mai tai chip.
Smoke erupts from the Tiki Tron as if we
have angered the fire goddess Pele herself.
“Dance!” Doctor Bombay commanded.
We both do the awkward dances of our
pasty ancestors while the Tiki Tron mixes
the right amounts of dark rum, curacao
and fruit juices. The dancing was ugly but
the mai tai was pretty good.
I do my penance for the sins of cultural
appropriation with the Shocking Robot. The
longer I can withstand being zapped by its
live electrode, the more tequila this drinkbot
will pour. I hold on long enough to get a
double shot but my palm
feels a bit singed after wards.
After another machine
shoots a vodka Collins at
my face I start to see why
they didn’t allow droids in
the Star Wars cantina. All
of these contrivances lack a
certain personal touch.
While the robot barkeeps
and their inventors are
vying for a prize that will be
won by PenguinGuyCool92
(better known as the tenta-
cle), Rebekah Brewer Padilla is behind the
bar mixing the drinks the old fashioned way.
“I’m honestly not worried about robot
bartenders,” she said. “People go to bars to
seek the social aspect. People love talking
She pours me a beer. I tip her a couple of
bucks and start to grouse
about the high price of
real estate. She gives me a
couple words of support
better than any robot
worm could ever hope
to—at least for now.
Bob Calhoun is the author
of Shattering Conventions:
Commerce, Cosplay and
Conflict on the Expo Floor.
You can follow him on
Twitter at @bob_calhoun.
IN EACH INSTALLMENT
BOB CALHOUN CRASHES
A NEW TRADESHOW,
LOOKING FOR A WAY TO
FIT IN—EVEN WHERE
HE DOESN’T ALWAYS
SHATTERING CON VENT IONS
Mechanical mixologists compete in a boozy battle royale
EXCLUSIVE VIDEOS WWW.MEETINGSTODAY.COM/SHATTERING
By Bob Calhoun
How Can a