I’ll admit that I wasn’t the biggest fan of boba tea even before the pandemic brought my social life to a grinding halt. Tapioca pearls just taste gross to me, as does bacon, avocado, and a slew of other oft-hyped food that the internet goes crazy over, so I realise I’m very much in the minority here. Though if it meant I got to play around with this boba tea robot, I would sure as hell give tapioca another shot.
The startup Bobacino has developed a fully automated boba tea bar complete with a robotic arm, boba and tea dispensers, and more. This week, the company, which is led by a team of robotics and food experts from Miso Robotics, SpaceX, and Microsoft, and other tech giants, launched a campaign on the equity crowdfunding platform StartEngine.
Bobacino is aiming for a $4 million raise, per Robotics and Automation News. It hopes to set up its boba tea stations in shopping malls, airports, business parks, and college campuses across America to target a market that it predicts will hit around $12 billion by 2024 in the U.S. alone.
The bar’s fully automated design obviously lends itself to social distancing measures and minimal person-to-person contact, health precautions that the food-service industry has struggled to adapt to in these unprecedented times. The lack of human staff also provides an advantage when there isn’t a pandemic wreaking havoc by significantly cutting down on the bar’s expenses.
“By removing the expensive overhead of real estate and labour, Bobacino’s compactly designed Boba machines bring affordable, high-quality Boba to high-traffic areas,” states Bobacino’s investor brief.
I have to wonder though: If its small physical footprint is such a selling point, why is the thing so freaking big? From Bobacino’s promotional video, the bar looks about the size of a mall pagoda, albeit one of the tinier ones. I feel like a vending machine design could deliver the same results while taking up so much less real estate. Of course, then customers wouldn’t get the chance to marvel at a robot arm fixing their drink right before their eyes. This theatrical element seems baked into the bar’s design, as one of Bobacino’s engineers said in the video that the team intentionally made the bar “so it could also bring an experience” to customers in addition to their favourite boba tea flavours.
Some of Bobacino’s leading investors include the venture capital firm Wavemaker Partners and its in-house automation-focused studio, Wavemaker Labs, as well as Embark Ventures, a Los Angeles-based firm that invests in AI and “deep tech” projects.
According to a study by the Tea Association of the U.S., a whopping 87 per cent of millennials drink tea regularly, and if my own experience is any reflection, much of that generation seems to lose their shit over boba. Maybe one day I’ll figure out why my taste buds insist on bucking convention, but until then, I’ll just continue enjoying the tea’s cutesy packing if nothing else.