If you’ve grown weary of neck-bearded baristas in flannel and waiting in line for $5 eight-ounce cold brews, then you’ll be happy to know that soon you may be able to avoid that experience altogether in order to get your morning caffeine fix. The harbinger of death for the third-wave coffee shop has arrived, and it has taken the form of a coffee-delivering drone, designed by none other than IBM. And it knows when you need a jolt probably before you even do.
According to a patent document made available to the public by the US Patent and Trademark Office, IBM was granted a patent for an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, that delivers coffee or another “caffeine containing drink” to an individual who has placed an order, or to an individual in a crowd “for whom an electronic analysis of sensor data indicates to be in a predetermined cognitive state” requiring caffeine. All this means that a coffee-carrying drone could use various forms of electronic analysis to predict who needs a pick-me-up and who doesn’t, including motion sensors to know if someone’s head might be drooping in a mid-afternoon lull, or reading Fitbit data to know what time someone might have just woken up and be in need of a jolt. If given access to your medical data, it would know if you’re taking medication that interacts badly with caffeine, and would skip you over.
The patent for this drone, designed with office buildings or public event spaces like convention halls or festivals in mind, was first filed back in 2015 by IBM, the company known for creating business technologies that changed the way the world does work. The company currently holds record for the most US patents generated by a business for 25 consecutive years, according to Wikipedia.
It’s not the first company to develop a coffee delivery system that uses drones. Last year, a drone-focused logistics company called Matternet tested its coffee delivery via drone in the skies of Zurich, Switzerland. Back in 2014, an Amsterdam-based company called Coffee Copter demonstrated a version of its own system, which relied on an app as the user interface for placing coffee orders in an office setting. Just this past Monday, Wing, another drone delivery logistics company out of Australia, demonstrated its product for a local member of the Australian parliament in Canberra.
What those delivery systems lack, however, is the "smart" technology that IBM designed to read an individual’s vitals and predict when they’ll need a caffeine fix. Other coffee-focused drone companies are merely semi-automated delivery guys who still rely solely on you placing the order first.
This patent enters the world just as increasingly common work perks in the tech industry such as in-office free cafeterias and gyms are being reconsidered, or at least reframed as a means for companies to keep employees working as long as possible rather than just well-meaning offerings from our corporate overlords.
Is it better that a drone use facial recognition software to detect that your eyes are drooping around 4:30 and bring you a flat white, or should we be getting our blood flowing with a quick jaunt to the local coffee shop? That’s for you and your Fitbit to decide—you still need to get your steps in, after all.