Robotic Bartender: Scientists Study Human Body Language To Aid In Development Of Humanoid Server

By Philip Ross on September 18, 2013 10:51 PM EDT

robot
German researchers are working on a robotic bartender that can recognize human body language. (Photo: Flickr/cambridgebrewingcompany)

If you've ever been ignored by a bartender, you know it's not a pleasant experience. But lucky for you, researchers studying body language know exactly what works and what doesn't when it comes to getting served.

Scientists from the Bielefeld University in Germany who want to build a robotic bartender have been observing the way people at bars order drinks. They've noted the motions and behaviors of people who most successfully get the bartender's attention, as opposed to the ones who get overlooked.

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The research does not only help us order a cocktail next time we're out. It also helps the scientists develop programs for a humanoid server that will allow the robot to recognize when a patron is ready for another round.

"In order to respond appropriately to its customers the robot must be able to recognize human social behavior," Professor Jan De Ruiter, from the psycholinguistics research group at Bielefeld University, told The Telegraph. "Currently, we are working on the robot's ability to recognize when a customer is bidding for its attention."

The robot is called James, which stands for Joint Action in Multimodal Embodied Social Systems. James is funded by a grant from the European Union, according to The Telegraph.

Stuff reports that in his most recent form, James' head is a tablet with a cartoon face on it. He also has a torso, and a four-fingered hand that can grasp and pass bottles to bar patrons. If researchers can get James to recognize human body language - when someone wants a drink, when someone is ready to pay and when someone is simply standing at the bar - he could be a pretty successful addition to a night out on the town.

After observing 105 bar patrons in Germany and Scotland, and assessing their body language 35 seconds before they were served, researchers noted that 90 percent of people face the bar directly and point their attention towards the bar or one of the bartenders.

So what are the most surefire ways to get served? According to the researchers, looking at a menu and talking to friends is definitely a no-no. Gesturing towards the bartender with your hand or head, also not a great idea.

Holding out your wallet or money, on the other hand, proved successful a fair amount of the time. Here's more from The Telegraph:

They found the most successful tactic, which occurred in 95% of orders, was standing squarely towards the bar with head facing forward. Looking at the bartender, was successful in 86% of the orders. Leaning on the bar happened infrequently but also seemed to have a high strike rate when it did happen.

We just want to know: will harmless flirtation still work on robotic bartenders?  

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