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Estonian AI robot bartender Yanu aims to become the Mercedes of the service robot’s market

Yanu, the Estonian-made robot bartender, has just been chosen as one of the top 100 AI systems in the world. Alan Adojaan, company's founder and CEO, says that work on it is far from over. "Our goal is to swiftly develop Yanu and become the Mercedes of this market," he says.

When Adojaan first introduced the idea of a robot bartender to his friends, most of them thought he was crazy. They saw it as a kind of toy, entertainment. But now that has changed. According to him, COVID has made contactless service a priority. Humans clearly come with health risks during a pandemic, while a robot does not.

“A robot does not get sick, is faster, contactless, works continuously through night and day and does not steal,” Adojaan lists its advantages. Novelty and attractiveness go hand-in-hand with Yanu, and people want to take a closer look at the robot.

Yanu arrives at shopping centres

Yanu currently has two operating prototype robot bartenders. One of them is in Dubai, the other at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. The latter has not been used much due to COVID and was taken to Tartu where it will be getting some work done, after which it will return to the public again. You can soon find Yanu both in Apollo in the Tasku shopping centre in Tartu and in the newly renovated Solaris shopping centre in Tallinn.

Yanu will soon move its production over to Saaremaa, to the factory of the fast-growing Finnish company Incap Electronics Estonia. And although offers for production have come from elsewhere in the world, the reason for choosing this location is simple. It is home. The Incap executives there are familiar and capable.

Among other things, Incap wanted to set up a production line itself and, in addition to Saaremaa, can also produce certified components in India. “And if something were to go wrong, I can go straight to the source and get involved,’’ says Adojaan with a smile. “If necessary.”

Although Yanu has so far been advertised as a robot bartender, this is not entirely true. Adojaan states that among the younger generation alcohol is no longer popular, so in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates Yanu predominantly offers soft drinks. However, if the customer wishes, Yanu can of course also offer alcoholic beverages.

Adojaan does not yet know how well the Yanu robot would compete, for example, with Ragnar Sass, creator of the Pipedrive unicorn company, in Design Hata in the Tallinn Old Town, where the Estonian unicorn founders have used to compete in cocktail making. Such a competition format is something they have thought about, but since there is currently no mobile robot, it has not yet succeeded. “A professional bartender makes their work more beautiful and interesting,’’ said Adojaan. “We are not aiming for that. When it comes to making different drinks, Yanu wins, when it comes to making one drink, a real bartender will probably be able to compete with the machine.

“Our goal is to aid in situations where you need to work day and night, act fast and maintain consistent quality.’’ he explained. “At the moment, these include amusement parks, hotels, airports and nightclubs.”

Taavi Tenso is the president of the Estonian Bartenders’ Association and the founder and bartender of the restaurant Köht in Orissaare, Saaremaa. Tenso is not afraid of the robot taking his job. “It is cool when a robot serves you,’’ he says. “It’s a new toy and definitely elicits different emotions.” He believes that a robot can be good for attracting customers. However, he has not yet managed to order cocktails from Yanu himself.

In his opinion, it would be especially cool if the robot not only made simple punch cocktails and soft drinks but would also be able to quickly make complex cocktails such as the eleven-component Singapore Sling and Whiskey Sour.

Surprising recognition

By now, Yanu has reached the stage where the IRCAI, an international artificial intelligence research centre operating under UNESCO, has chosen the Estonian robot bartender as one of the 100 most outstanding AI systems in the world. In 2021, Estonian AI developers were so successful that in addition to Yanu, three other AI systems created in Estonia, or as many as four in total, were added to the list and making Estonia the country with the most listed AI projects per capita.

Getting on this list was a complete surprise for Yanu. The people behind Yanu think that the decisive factor was probably the use of different technologies, four different apps – a chatbot, a Siri or Alexa-like bartender, a payment system and food robotics.

Despite the recognition, according to Adojaan, the work is far from over. Three or four more patents are planned for new inventions. Adojaan does not share any details as the market is so competitive that the ideas would be stolen immediately. These are not empty words. For example, people from Asia have repeatedly asked to buy Yanu or to work there as interns for the purpose of espionage.

Yanu plans to raise money

According to Adojaan, service robotics will be the next big thing. For example, in full-service hotels worked by machines. The only thing hindering this is the fear of robots. “When machines take over dirty and meaningless labour, everything becomes more valuable, leaving time to study, to do creative work,’’ he says with passion. “Not to wash dishes. There is no need to be afraid of that.’’

The goal of Yanu is not to take jobs away from bartenders, but to give people the opportunity to do higher quality and more artistic work, leaving simpler drinks to the robot. At the same time, labour numbers in various countries show a growing shortage of bartenders, which is exactly the gap Yanu aims to fill.

Next, they plan to raise as much money as possible, as fast as possible. So far, 2.5 million euros have been spent on Yanu. If more investors are found, Adojaan promises that Yanu will become number one in the world, if it isn’t already. The only competing robot is the Italian Makr Shakr.

“Our goal is to swiftly develop Yanu and become the Mercedes of this market,” says Adojaan. It is important to not only sell the machines, but also to install and own the machines themselves and to collect data on the customers. The next 3 to 4 million euros will go into production and 5 to 7 million euros would help make the company self-sufficient, Adojaan says of their future goals.

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