Robot bartender will soon be slinging drinks on a Royal Caribbean cruise. It's not just a drink dispenser — the Makr Shakr's arms can shake a martini, cut limes and carefully measure alcohol for pretty much any cocktail. Not that it can provide a totally authentic experience.
"The first problem with those robots is that they don't have a mustache," Ted Lange, better known as Isaac, the mustachioed bartender from "The Love Boat," told NBC News.
"If a couple on a cruise is going into Mazatlan and they ask, "Where can we find a great bar?" the arm can't tell you," he said. "I have nothing against orange arms, but I would rather see brown arms."
Lange might not be able to go a few minutes without cracking a joke, but he has a point. It's the personal touches that make many hospitality workers indispensable. Those working behind the scenes? They might not be so lucky.
Cruise Ship of the Future
The Quantum of the Seas, which launches this fall, is essentially a mobile theme park, a 4,180-passenger ship complete with a sky-diving simulator, bumper cars and acrobatic aerial shows.
The 646-passenger Pacific Princess — which served as the backdrop of "The Love Boat" during its run from 1977 to 1986 — was considerably less advanced. But many on its fictional crew probably won't have to worry about getting new jobs, even with drastic advances in robotics.
"With hospitality, you can't disentangle the services from the people who are providing the service," Michael Giebelhausen, an assistant professor of marketing at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, told NBC News. "It's hard to remove people and replace them with robots."
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Imagine the roles of the "Love Boat" crew:
•Julie McCoy, Cruise Director: Considering a cruise director's job consists of schmoozing with passengers and making sure events run smoothly, it's not likely a robot could replace this position anytime soon.
•Ashley "Ace" Covington Evans, Photographer: Microsoft did create an adorable party photographer robot that finds and focuses on people with the help of a Kinect, but professional photographers should probably be more worried about Instagram.
•Adam "Doc" Bricker, Doctor: If anything, robots could help doctors better perform surgery and analyze data. It's the pharmacists who should probably be more concerned about losing their jobs.
•Merrill Stubing, Captain: In a world where Google's self-driving cars exist, it's not hard to see how a boat might steer itself. Rolls-Royce is already designing an unmanned cargo ship. Whether a cruise line would trust thousands of lives to a drone is another story.
Industry Stirred, Not Shaken
The lesson? The more a position involves making people happy (or reassuring them that they won't crash), the less likely it is to be replaced. It's the jobs in the service industry that hew closer to manufacturing than hospitality — dishwasher, laundry worker, etc. — that could more feasibly be replaced, Giebelhausen said.
If anything, he noted, it's software like check-in apps that will really change the hospitality industry, not robots that look like they came from a science fiction movie.
"The robot doesn't replace the bartender at all," Charlotte Baumert, communications director for Carlo Ratti, the Italian design firm that teamed up with MIT researchers to create Makr Shakr, told NBC News.
It's more of a complement to a human bartender or something fun to bring out for special events, she said. She loves how people can pick out ingredients for custom drinks on their smartphones. (Her favorite robot-mixed drink: a mojito.)
While she is proud of her firm's work, she said that "bartenders are always going to be necessary."
That statement would probably earn a "double Isaac" from Lange, who spends his time these days writing plays.
To him, there are countless things that bartenders do that can never be mechanically reproduced, from giving a warm hello to creating love connections between patrons. Still, he admits, the Makr Shakr is kind of cool.
"It's a wonderful novelty," he said. "I would probably try it out, but when nobody was looking, I would probably paint a mustache on the goddamn arm."
—By Keith Wagstaff, NBC News