By Lorenzo Castro E.
Miami, Feb 2 (EFE).- Cecilia, the first bartender developed with artificial intelligence and capable of interacting with customers, made her debut on Wednesday at a university in Miami, where she was presented as an “innovative solution” for the hospitality sector.
The machine, which can serve up a cocktail in about 30 seconds after a customer requests it, is being billed as a way to augment the tourism sector’s recent manpower shortage, especially since the coronavirus pandemic hit, specialists say.
Brian Connors – the director of the Bacardi Center of Excellence, which is part of the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Florida International University, Cecilia’s new home – told EFE that in many cases the AI bartender will be a “great new option” for the hospitality industry.
She can definitely help companies and workers, enabling them to work faster to fill drink orders, according to Elad Kobi, the CEO of Cecilia.ai, the Israeli company that manufactures the device, which so far has been launched only in the United States.
Connors said that now more than ever the leisure sector has a mix of high technology and “high touch,” adding that Cecilia is located right at that intersection point, with the AI bartender already having been successfully exhibited at the recent CES technology fair held in Las Vegas in January.
He said he was happy to have FIU as the first university in the US to incorporate a technological development with these characteristics and predicted an excellent reception by the general public when Cecilia is presented at the next South Beach Wine and Food Festival, to be held on Feb. 24-27 in Miami Beach.
Besides FIU, Cecilia can only be found in the US at the Microsoft headquarters in Seattle.
A smiling Kobi, with a Cuba Libre in his hand served by Cecilia, said that customers can talk and interact with her and she will serve them very good cocktails.
The contraption consists of a screen where a rather chatty animated avatar of Cecilia appears to interact with customers via artificial intelligence and voice recognition.
In this way, the AI bartender can take a customer’s order or suggest a cocktail which the customer can then request. The machine will prepare the drink and within about 30 seconds it will then be served in a type of minibar located below the screen.
“To get yourself a drink, order from the menu or ask me for a recommendation,” says the animated Cecilia to the prospective customer. Depending on what the person answers, Cecilia will then chat a bit and potentially recommend something, but the customer can also select the drink from a touch screen.
Kobi told EFE that he thinks Cecilia perfectly fits the current situation in the hospitality industry because she’s completely automated and functions “without (human) contact,” adding that she has had a “very good reception” since he got the company going three months ago.
Hotel chains, restaurants, airports, stadiums and even cruise ships are some of the interested parties that have investigated Cecilia.ai with an eye toward acquiring these machines costing about $60,000 and which can be delivered to a buyer within about three months.
The 31-year-old executive said that the return on investment is relatively rapid because the idea is for Cecilia to help businesses obtain more income.
Although the machine comes with preprogrammed configurations, the purchasing company can set some of those parameters, including what kinds of cocktails can be served, the animated Cecilia’s characteristics such as race and ethnicity, the dialogue she will be able to engage in, the colors used on the screen, and so forth.
There are certain restrictions imposed on some of these selections, however. For instance, in terms of the clothing the animated Cecilia wears: she cannot be made to appear in a bathing suit.
Kobi – as well as the marketing director for the Israeli company, Nir Cohen-Paraira – emphasized that technological developments based on AI are beginning to be seen in the hostelry sector, where Cecilia stands out as the first device that is capable of verbally interacting with customers. As such, she provides a taste of what the future will bring.
Cohen told EFE that people are beginning to learn how to react to interactive robots and machines, adding that this is definitely how the future will be and emphasizing that FIU has put Cecilia at the disposal of future hospitality managers.
One of them, student Alexandra Bozo Cabrera, 21, told EFE that Cecilia “is something that is changing the world regarding serving drinks,” and she said that technological development like this is useful when, for example, a bar is “full” of customers.