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Move over, Starbucks, Ella the robot barista is onboarding from Singapore to Japan

The Independent logo The Independent 9/12/2021 Anna Maria Romero
© The Independent Singapore

Singapore — The future of coffee seems to have gone global, with a fully autonomous barista making the leap from Singapore to Japan.

Ella, which can be found locally at Plaza Singapura and Crown Coffee, will be brewing and serving up as many as 200 cups per hour in kiosks in a test run at Tokyo and Yokohama Stations, that goes on till Feb 28 next year. The trial began on Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan posted to Twitter a photo of the test run launch, urging people to #MeetElla

Dr Balakrishnan even added a personal photo of when he first met Ella in 2018 and enjoyed a cup of teh tarik.

© The Independent Singapore

Ella is the brainchild of Crown Digital, a Singaporean tech firm helmed by former wealth manager Keith Tan. Ella’s foray into Japan’s railway stations is a “test market collaboration” with East Japan Railway.

Mr Tan, now 41, left the world of finance to start a chain of coffee shops in 2015.

In an interview with CNBC, he said the labour crunch he experienced in staffing his coffee shops prompted the idea that has the potential to revolutionise the industry.

“We had four shops that were facing labor crunch, and I thought, ‘I’ve just invested in this company, it’s going to grow, it’s going to grow more than that!’ So, then I decided it’s time to really look into technology.”

Ella was designed to replicate what a human barista does, except that it can make four times more coffee in one hour. And, just like its human counterpart (or maybe even better), the robot can remember what your favourite brew is.

Moreover, during the Covid pandemic, having a robotic barista seemed to be an idea whose time had come, as people could get a cup of their morning java in a completely contactless, and therefore safe, manner.

All the manpower that’s needed is supplied by delivery drivers who organise the supply of fresh beans and milk through an app.

Mr Tan told CNBC that Ella was designed with “high density, grab-and-go environments” in mind, including airports, transport hubs and offices, “where speed is paramount”.

Moreover, lower manpower costs mean lower prices for consumers, with an Ella-prepared latte costing $3, compared with the $4.50 or so that coffee houses charge.

Eighteen million commuters will eventually be able to avail themselves of Ella-brewed coffee since Crown Digital has agreements with 30 SMRT-operated stations in Singapore as well as 1,657 stations in Japan. /TISG

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