One of the more civilized moments of air travel is enjoying a drink at cruising altitude. Unfortunately, this amenity requires airliners to ship hundreds of soda cans and spirit bottles that are costly to fly, and make the drink service maddeningly slow. To speed things up a bit while cutting costs, the German firms SkyMax and Air Eltec have developed the Skytender trolley – a rolling automated drinks machine that promises to make conventional airline bottles and cans obsolete.

Conventional cabin drinks services on airliners are a minor ballet of coordination as the crew wrestle the trolley down the aisle while taking orders, juggling cans and bottles, and keeping a steady supply of coffee and hot water coming from the galley. The Skytender automates all of this as it dispenses hot and cold drinks at the touch of a button. According to the makers, it can dispense juices, cocktails, soft drinks, tea and coffee while eliminating not only the need for soda cans, but also water boilers and coffee makers.

The Skytender offers over 100 flavors for airlines to choose from and each trolley can be configured to offer 18 drink options, though some of the makers’ literature says it can make 30 different drinks. Its dimensions are the same as a standard airline drinks trolley.

The raised dispenser unit has bag-in-a-box drink storage with 10 slots each holding an 800-ml (27-oz) box of syrup, which is diluted and, if desired, carbonated by an on-board system. There are also 30-liter (7.9-gal) hot and cold water tanks – both insulated to retain heat for 24 hours. This allows the Skytender to make 235 160-ml (5.4-oz) drinks.

The makers claim that the Skytender requires minimal training, is more hygienic than a traditional trolley, and that it saves money by dispensing exact measures. The crew don’t even have to worry about which slots to put the syrup boxes or water tanks in, because the machine can sense which is where using RFID tags that also help in tracking and ordering inventory.

The Skytender drinks machine being refilled

It is also claimed that the Skytender dispenses wine and cocktails, though from the videos and descriptions it seems to be a system built around dispensing reconstituted syrups, so it’s not clear where or how wines or spirits are handled.

The Skytender made its first commercial appearance on December 5 aboard a two-hour flight by the German airline WDL Aviation, flying from Cologne to Palma Majorca. The makers say that it will soon see use on several other airlines.

The video below shows how the Skytender operates.

Source: SkyMax via Gadling