Meet the Brobot: The Beer-Serving Robot

Josh Hieb and Jared Key are two college seniors at Utah State University. They love beer, but hate the unnecessary steps it takes to bring said beer into their hands. So they actually put their educations in Electrical and Computer Engineering to good use and built a beer-grabbing robot, aptly called “The Brobot.” Designed by beer-loving Americans for the beer-loving world, this is the story behind the Brobot. 

What is the Brobot?

Jared Key: The Brobot is an automated drink retrieval robot that spends its whole life waiting to bring people drinks.

How does this differ from most robots?

Josh Hieb: The Brobot is different from most robots since it can move it's camera around in three dimensions with it's arm. This gives the robot a wide range of view.

JK: The robots that stick out the most are the ones that require the minimal amount of knowledge to function. Plus, girls think its cute apparently. It also uses sight for almost all of its decisions, and after its been given a drink order, it runs without any further assistance or command.

Where'd you get the inspiration?

JH: Jared had the idea while brainstorming for senior project ideas.  He thought it would be great if a robot could bring him his beverages during a party.

JK: I was talking with my brothers by the pool last summer and I brought up the subject of my senior design and asked, "If you could have a robot do anything for you, what would it be?". They gave me some pretty simple suggestions and things they thought might be cool to see, but nothing really caught my attention. Then an hour later we ran out of drinks and one of my brothers said, "You should make a robot to get my beer for me," because none of us wanted to go get more. "Necessity" is the mother of invention.

What further innovations do you plan for the Brobot?

JH: Since the Brobot makes decisions based on color and shape recognition through image processing, the next improvement is pattern recognition for navigation using road signs.  Currently the Brobot follows a green tape line for getting to and from the fridge. We tried using green pathway signs for the bot to follow but if someone walked by with a green shirt it would follow them instead.  With pattern recognition we could ignore any other colors or shapes that cause issues.

JK: A faster processor would be fantastic as it currently takes a little while to process the data. As well it's currently not waterproofed, so that would need to be fixed.

Is this the robot dreams are made of?

JK: Yes, yes it is. But only the really lazy ones.

JH: Yeah it's pretty awesome. The entire process takes about 3-8 minutes depending on the distance it travels and works only with mini fridges so far.

So here's how the Brobot works:

1. The Brobot has a list of Hue Saturation Value (HSV) color values for the different drinks so when it gets an order it selects a specific HSV value combination for the desired beer.

2. The camera snaps a picture of the inside of the fridge and filters out all color from the image except for the desired drinks.

3. If the picture lacks the specific HSV, the camera takes more pictures.

4. The correct HSV is centered to the middle of the picture by moving the robotic arm's base. The beer is centered into the middle of the frame and the robotic arm lines up for retrieval.

5. At this point the arm starts to extend for pickup and pushes the can into its claw. From there, the claw closes and the Brobot now has the beer in its possession.

6. The final step is bringing the can out of the fridge, turning it around, and setting it in one of the cup holders on the back of the Brobot.

7. To get everything desired, the Brobot just keeps running through the same steps, but for different types of bottles as there are different HSV values for each beer.

What's next?

JH: The Brobot could be applied to multitudes of different things at this point. We are thinking of improving and applying it to restaurants for service assistance or hospice care for bringing injured or sick people food or things that they can not retrieve on their own.

JK: This project was mostly to prove that the concept would work. I would like to expand this idea to other tasks that a robot can handle during the day like taking out the trash, because I'm lazy, but I think that hospice care would greatly benefit from something like this and provide assistance to those who struggle getting around.

Describe your perfect robot.

JH: My perfect robot would be a robot that never fails at the job that it is given. The thing that makes building robot's tough is there is always a problem that no one thought of that causes it to fail spectacularly.

JK: The one the likes long walks on the beach, and brings me a pina colada.

Is America ever going to get their hands on this thing?

JH: Yes, after improvements and tweaks are made, people could use the Brobot in their home for drink retrieval.

JK: Oh yeah. We just need to make it a little cheaper to build and a bit easier to setup, then I could see this being marketable. Not sure if that's happening any time soon though.

Jeremy Glass is the Vice editor for Supercompressor and his dream robot would be one that could sing any Hall & Oates song on command.