Robots are coming to South Korea’s vibrant coffee culture, where crowds of lunchtime customers queuing at cafes are a daily sight. Coffee is just one of many industries that could be transformed by automated services in this tech-forward nation—a notion both exciting and worrisome as jobs become scarcer.
At a Dal.komm Coffee shop in Seoul, a robot barista takes orders remotely through a mobile app or kiosk cashier and then brews fresh coffee.
Less than a minute later, the robot sends a 4-digit code the customer can use to open a pick-up box. The robot can handle up to 14 drinks at a time. Drinks not retrieved within 10 minutes are thrown away, but another drink can be ordered at no extra charge.
“It’s really fun and convenient,” said Choi Eun Jin, a 30-year-old office worker. “The area is crowded with office workers and local residents during lunchtime. So it’s good to have a robot like this … so you can get your coffee more easily.”
The Dal.komm Coffee franchise has 45 robot-equipped outlets and says it’s operating the country’s first commercialized robot cafes. They’re in shopping malls, company cafeterias, schools and an airport.
South Korean industries, including restaurants, convenience stores, supermarkets, banks and manufacturers, are relying increasingly on robots and other automation. But not without protest: many Koreans, especially the young, are struggling to find work.
On Tuesday, workers who operate about 2,500 tower cranes staged a strike, protesting growing use of unmanned small tower cranes at construction sites. Labor unions also have protested use of automated check-out counters at Emart, South Korea’s biggest supermarket chain.
Officials also revised initial plans to completely automate all the nation’s tollgates after complaints over losing 6,700 jobs. Instead, the system will be partially automated and keep all its current toll collectors.
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