A Robot Arm Now Makes 3D Printed Drinks

By Gustaf Vincoeur |

Print Gimlets not guns! Currently, 3D printing is a touchstone topic in discussions ranging from firearms to space exploration. But now, a couple of Austrian scientists are taking the cutting edge printing technology to an unexplored realm: the bar. Meet the 3D printed drink.

What exactly is a 3D printed drink?

According to inventor Benjamin Greimel’s theory, it’s technically a little more of a 3D printed garnish. His cutting edge libations consist of a regular(ish) cocktail with tiny dots of oil suspended within the base to form elaborate three dimensional patterns.

This drink has some serious (3)DNA… (Photo by Evan Blaser)

Greimel and his partner Philipp Hornung debuted the concept at a December event staged by Bulleit’s Frontier Works program at Oakland’s old Sixteenth Street Station. A few hundred media and industry types oohed and ahh’ed as a sleek white robot arm tipped with a long metal needle danced around cocktails and injected microliter spheres of oil.

As the needle hopped about, images revealed themselves. Inside the glass, helixes, words, and even the Golden Gate Bridge were built out of tiny spheres.

The patterns remained stable while the glass was moved, even sipped, leading some to speculate that the droplets were floating in gelatin. However, there was nothing so viscous at play. In fact, the host beverage was a mix of Bulleit Bourbon, Chardonnay grape juice, peach juice, and green tea.

Hornung (L) and Greimel prep the arm at the Bulleit 3D Printed Frontier Launch at 16th Street Station in Oakland, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for Bulleit Frontier Whiskey)

The robot can “print” inside a wide variety of drinks using a method first developed by Greimel during his time at the Laboratory for Creative Robotics of the University of Arts and Design Linz. He was so passionate about the idea that he proceeded to patent it and start a company, Print-A-Drink.

(That’s right, this is not the side project of a large robotics company; Greimel’s company is solely dedicated to robotically printing 3D drinks.)

The scientist told Neat Pour that “almost any design is possible.” It’s just a matter of programming the KUKA Robotics manufactured arm using a a handheld computer interface normally employed in industrial manufacturing.

Of course, the robotics are cool and all, but there is still the matter of actually building the drink. That task fell to Elmer Mejicanos of SF’s Lillie Coits and Tony’s Pizza.

Mejicanos in front of a 3D printed bar constructed for Bulleit’s Frontier Works

Mejicanos was presented by challenges a little bit different than your typical process of spec’ing out a drink. He explained that the physics involved with 3D cocktails impose their own sets of demands.

For example, the droplets will only stay suspended if the drink’s ABV weighs in at 40% or less. In addition, viscosity and citrus (acid) levels factor into the (literal) equation. Plus, the creator had to account for clarity—the guest needs to be able to actually see the suspension.

“And, of course, flavor is the most important element,” added Mejicanos.

Taste was also a key factor when the team opted to fabricate the droplets from lemon oil. “Specifically, they are flavor enhancers. What does it taste like and how does it compliment the flavor of the actual cocktail?” Mejicanos explained, “You need to look at viscosity there too and how light can it be so it doesn’t feel like you’re drinking syrup.”

Part of the excitement surrounding the medium is that the technology offers something new and young. There is great potential for future creations. Mejicanos believes that the arm is just part of a larger movement. 

“At the core it’s still ‘respect what you are using,’ but make it look like something else, present it a non-boring way. And, I feel like lots of people are doing that with cocktails right now,” he elaborated. “Make it fun because that’s what drinks are all about. Create a story, create an experience.”

Still, the machines are not quite at centrifuge levels of popularity—yet. Currently, Bulleit is touring with the only Print-A-Drink machine stateside. The Frontier Works events also feature an elaborate bar constructed entirely from 3D printed parts. Eventually, the whole affair will find a permanent home at the brand’s new Shelby County, Kentucky distillery.

If you miss Bulleit’s rig, you can always buy your own Print-A-Drink robot. The machines sell for about €25,000 ($28679.25) Some technical training is required for operation. (So, you probably won’t see one at your neighborhood bar any time soon, but look out Vegas!)

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