Gizmag talks about the Monsieur robotic bartender with CEO Barry Givens
By David Szondy
October 10, 2013
Want to serve cocktails at your next party, but don’t know beans about mixology? The Monsieur company of Atlanta, Georgia thinks it has the answer with the home version of its Monsieur machine. It’s a robotic bartender tailored to your individual lifestyle that the company sees as a way of enhancing social drinking without having to constantly refer to a book or acting as bartender all night at a party. We caught up with co-founder and CEO of Monsieur, Barry Givens, to discuss the machine-made cocktail.
The company is developing an in-home version of its business model Monsieur bartender using crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. Weighing 50 lb (22.6 kg), Monsieur is a black box measuring 22 x 18 x 21 in (55.8 x 45.7 x 53.3 cm) with a touchscreen and a dispensing slot with a suitably festive blue neon glow. Inside the basic model is room for eight 30-oz (0.8-l) containers along peristaltic pumps, and processors that handle orders and monitor container levels. Clean up takes about two minutes
According to the company, Monsieur comes with 12 themed packages with 25 preset cocktails each. You can select from a tiki bar theme, or a sports bar, or an Irish pub, or a non-alcoholic theme. On average, the machine can make 150 cocktails before it needs refilling.
Ordering is done either by means of the touchscreen, which presents images of the cocktails on offer, or by a smartphone app. The user can also designate the strength of the drink from normal to “boss.” In addition, Monsieur is programmed to learn the user’s preferences, recommends drinks for the more adventurous, and estimates the individual user’s blood alcohol level and can offer to help order a taxi.
What makes Monsieur a bit more than an alcohol-dispensing vending machine is that it incorporates a dose of artificial intelligence. Along with the smartphone app, the company says that Monsieur integrates itself with home automation systems such as SmartThings via WiFi, Zigbee, or Bluetooth. In this way, it can gather data that allows it to offer you a double after a long day at the office, knows when you have company and offers to make them a drink as well, and even suggest a drink to celebrate when your team scores a goal.
Recently, we had a telephone conversation with co-founder and CEO of Monsieur, Barry Givens, who talked about the thinking behind the machine’s development.
Gizmag: First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
Barry Givens: I'm a graduate of the Georgia tech with a background in mechanical engineering. I worked for John Deere for seven years as a design engineer, then I moved on to Caterpillar, where I was in sales and did project management. From there, I became CEO of Monsieur.
Gizmag: What was the inspiration for Monsieur?
Barry Givens: I've always kept my eye on different, ideas, different things that I could work on and I ran across Monsieur. In social settings, people don’t pay attention to what they’re drinking and aren't really enjoying a good drink. As I got older and started going out to dinner and trying to find a decent cocktail, I’d go to a restaurant or a weddings and I’d realize that it’s difficult to find someone who can make a decent cocktail, and the engineer in me started me thinking that I can create something that does this and that I could put a business behind it. That’s why I've been spending the last ten years developing the technology with my co-founder [Eric Williams].
Gizmag: Who is Monsieur aimed at?
Barry Givens: We’re aiming at people who like to entertain. They have friends they invite over all the time and they’re always playing bartender, whether it’s at a poker night, or some girls’ night out, or whatever the case may be. All in all, people who enjoy cocktails, people who enjoy entertaining, and people who are open to technology. I’m a young person and I can’t think of anyone who has a robotic bartender now, but you have to focus on the early adopters, the first people who had home automation, the first people who had Google and smartphones.
Gizmag: Is learning to use Monsieur difficult?
Barry Givens: One thing we’re focusing on is to make it as easy as possible. The problem that we’re trying to overcome is how conveniently to make a cocktail consistently. Obviously, everyone is familiar with touchscreens thanks to smartphones and tablets over the last eight or nine years. Everyone knows how to use a touchscreen, knows how to scroll, that’s very simple, and after that, it’s just a matter of choosing what they want to drink. We help people do that with pictures and recommendations to allow people to try things they never would have tried before. So, we really try to make it as simple as possible. And where we are right now is we’re a few tweaks away from having it work.
Gizmag: Does it work on preset recipes or can they be customized?
Barry Givens: Instead of preset recipes, we have preset themes. You can choose a theme, such as a cigar bar, a modern bar, Mardi Gras, a sports team. With all of these things we have preset cocktail lists. These are standard recipes. We try to expand wherever possible these recipes with the profile we’re providing. If you order a sidecar, it’s going to be a standard sidecar. What we wanted to do was provided these initial twelve packages and then expand them as the machine becomes more popular. In the marketplace is where we get a lot of this diversity. Instead of creating cocktails, users can create cocktail lists that consumers can then download. So we do expect to have every type of drink that you enjoy will be uploaded and I can go to my machine and download them.
Gizmag: How does it handle ingredients like carbonated beverages?
Barry Givens: That’s actually one place where we’re a bit different from other people in that they can’t handle carbonated beverages. We use peristaltic pumps that usually can’t handle carbonated beverages because of the air pockets that kind of mess up the vacuum. Basically, we did a lot of testing and we have algorithms linked to the pump that knows when a beverage is carbonated or not and pumps differently.
Gizmag: What about simple syrups?
Barry Givens: Simple syrups are very viscous and they make the peristaltic pumps a lot slower, so that’s what we're working on now. With the bitters and the simple syrups, they need to be pumped in different ways and we’re working at our end on our technology because we want to make it as simple as possible. By the time we ship, we’re very optimistic that we’ll have it down to the point where it’s just as accurate as any other mixer or chaser.
Gizmag: What was your greatest challenge in making Monsieur?
Barry Givens: I would say that the biggest challenge I faced was that I've worked in manufacturing before as one part of the cog in the wheel, but as an entrepreneur you’re all the cogs in the wheel from the line down to the packaging and that’s been difficult. I would say that over the entire time we've been developing there’s been so many nuances to making a cocktail – so many ingredients that look different and taste different – and they react differently with the materials. When you think about orange juice versus lemon juice and alcohol, they act totally different, so you have to choose you containers and algorithms based on that liquid, so with a lot of the things that you have to do with any product, you have to go back to the drawing board to get it right. But you’re getting it to pump different cocktails, so it’s not a bad job to have.
Gizmag: What’s been people’s reaction to Monsieur’s cocktails?
Barry Givens: When people taste [Monsieur’s drinks] they’re particularly surprised that it makes a good cocktail. People expect, because it’s a machine, for it to spit out the liquids, and people are surprised that, "this is a real cocktail, this is really good."
Gizmag: Your literature says that Monsieur can tell when you've had a hard day or when you have company. It seems a bit magical.
Barry Givens: That’s definitely the fun part. Right now, there’s a plethora of technology that you can you choose from that’s already been proven. There are communication protocols, safety protocols and others on your cellphone, your tablet, your WiFi network at home, your 3G, 4G networks, and all these different technologies are ones that people just aren't utilizing. We found a lot of really cool ways of bringing that technology into social drinking.
It’s actually really simple [for the technology] to tell when you’re home, it’s just that no one thought to apply it. People use these protocols everyday, such as home automation systems or syncing phones on the WiFi network. we’re able to tell when people are home. We’re able to tell when there are multiple devices on the network. We can use your personal device when you’re logged in and we can see when there’s another device that’s not logged in, so [Monsieur] knows when you’re bringing people home. It’s very simple and like a home automation system that says, "You’re home, how about your favorite cocktail?" It’s a lot of simple things that people have already done that we’re just applying in new, fun ways. It seems like magic, but most people don’t understand those protocols.
Gizmag: When will the first units ship?
Barry Givens: There’s going to be a small batch out before Christmas, but the volume batch will go out in March , maybe early April.
The Kickstarter campaign runs until November 15. The plan is to make the home version of Monsieur available in two models, the standard 8-container and a smaller 4-container, starting at US$1499.
The video below introduces Monsieur.