Bobacino is still in the prototype phase and plans to launch in the first half of 2022.
The concept: a standalone, fully integrated beverage system and dispenser that combines futuristic technology with a range of diverse flavors and customizable ingredients for an automated bubble tea experience. PopID’s advanced facial recognition technology complements Bobacino’s low-touch automation, speed and access expectations for consumers.
Bobacino is backed by venture capital funds Wavemaker Partners and and Embark Ventures, and Wavemaker Labs, an automation-focused venture studio. The company features a seasoned team of robotics and food experts made up of executives and founders from Miso Robotics, SpaceX and Microsoft.
HT caught up with Darian Ahler, CEO of Bobacino, about this exciting new concept that combines robotics, automation and facial recognition with an on-trend tea-based beverages.
Bobacino's Automated Tea Retail Concept
- On-site contactless ordering and payment: PopID-compatible Bobacino machines will feature full software and hardware integration, allowing customers to select and utilize PopID’s PopPay solution as a payment method on the same screen they viewed Bobacino’s menu and placed their order. Customers can still pay via traditional credit/debit cards if they do not have a PopID account.
- App ordering and payment: Bobacino customers will be able to use PopID as a payment method on PopID’s app for placing pre-orders for pickup.
- Customer confirmation: Customers will also have the option of verifying their identity with PopID to retrieve their order. Through an opt-in only system, the customer’s face will be scanned and authenticated to dispense the drink. No customer data will be saved on Bobacino machines.
- ‘Powered by Bobacino’ integration: For operators that choose to deploy their own branded Bobacino machines, they will have the option to integrate PopID into their automated boba tea bars.
HT: How did this concept come about?
Darian Ahler, CEO of Bobacino: Bobacino was created with the idea of bringing the unique boba tea experience to a larger audience. When I first came across boba it was super eye opening – it was a drink that was more than just a drink. It was an event! Friends would go get boba together, and it was this shared experience. I just loved that.
There is an expanding audience of boba lovers and new enthusiasts out there. And I wanted to bring boba to that audience and create more of those memorable experiences through a fully automated boba bar capable of giving this time-honored tradition more customizable ingredients.
I wanted to fuse AI, robotics and a range of diverse flavors, to create fresh, new memories for customers. Robots are something that already attract and fascinate people, and it just helps to open up the idea of trying something new because a robot is making it right in front of you ... And in today’s world, contactless solutions/creations are certain to make this that much more appealing; consumers want to know they are drinking something that has gone through minimal exposure to contaminants before it gets to them.
HT: What role will automation play at Boba Tea?
Ahler: Like other areas in the food and restaurant industry, boba ship operators are facing a series of challenges that are impacting their ability to grow and expand. Examples of this are the critical labor shortage that is adversely affecting restaurant operations and bottom lines, and the high costs of opening a physical location. This is also in addition to the sudden shift in customer behavior, which is increasingly looking for safe, low-touch experiences amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
At Bobacino, we believe that incorporating automation empowers operators to operate safely, attract customers and bring staff back to work. Most franchisees are struggling small business owners, and they need new and innovative ways to stay in business and reach their customers. … In addition, Bobacino machines, operating in locations that standalone businesses cannot, still require part-time employees for regular maintenance and daily restocking. That’s a new job that didn’t exist for someone or more hours for an employee already on the roster for an operator – just with a higher point of profitable return.
HT: What are/were the challenges you were facing that led to adding robotics? AI?
Ahler: The boba market is quickly expanding as consumers venture out to try new products that offer customizable options to their unique lifestyle. In fact, the global boba tea market is currently worth $5 billion, and it is expected to hit $8.4 billion by 2024…
87% of millennials are currently drinking tea in the U.S., and a recent study on delivery orders found that brown sugar milk, which is the main ingredient in bubble tea, was among the most ordered food items in 2019, growing 281% from the previous year. That’s huge! Combine that with the fact that consumers are also looking to try new dishes and share food experiences that restaurants used to offer before the pandemic hit. This is one of the top things they’ve missed.
That tells us right now more so than ever is the time to bring boba to the market in a big future-focused way. And that’s exactly what Bobacino does with every trip and every sip!
HT: Tell us about your partnership with PopID (a cloud-based platform that enables businesses to offer employees and customers the option to authenticate their identity using facial recognition.)