March 12, 2006 If there was a list of professions least likely to see humans replaced by machines, the barkeeper would logically be on that list. But students in the final year of a computational linguistics and phonetics course at the University of Saarland in Germany have created a robotic bartender to demonstrate how digital language technologies can be combined with robotics.

The robotic Barkeeper understands natural language and hence takes orders in exactly the same way as a normal bartender. It has a database of cocktail recipes, and will propose drinks to the customer at the beginning of the conversation. The user can then choose any cocktail by spoken commands, or create their own cocktail by choosing the ingredients. Then while it is making the drinks, it keeps the customers entertained by telling jokes. The Barkeeper has an extensive jokes database, with additional specific jokes about each cocktail and each ingredient.When it serves the drink, it also explains to the customer exactly what the alcoholic content is.

The computer linguistics course was run by University of Saarland professors Manfred Pinkal and Hans Uszkoreit and involved the students creating a speaking robot in just six weeks.

Three students, Thomas Horf, Roland Roller, Sabrina Wilske, decided on building the barkeeper robot while two other teams decided on a blackjack dealing robot and a logistics robot.