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Don’t expect coffee-butler drones any time soon, though

Tim Nelson
August 22, 2018

Drones are probably going to kill us all someday. But until they become self-aware and rise up against humanity, drones can still perform useful functions.

Just at this recent patent filed by IBM. According to the August 7 filing, the skies may soon be swarming drones smart enough to go on a coffee run. As USA Today reports, the patent implies that such a system would be ideal for delivering coffee in offices and at events, using methods like facial recognition, bluetooth signals from smartphones, or some kind of electronic ID tag to get the coffee to its desired recipient.  

Even more, the plan is to program the drones to proactively buzz some coffee over to those who need a cup. Using a combination of wearable (i.e., FitBit) data, facial analysis, and other biometric scanning methods, such drones could even be smart enough to determine who’s tired and preemptively deliver them coffee. Alternatively, the drones could look at a synced electronic calendar and delivering coffee to meeting attendees at a specific time.

So should the interns of the world celebrate the end of their coffee-fetching days? Not quite yet. Drones in confined, crowded spaces are already a dicey (potentially literally) proposition, and the addition of airborne hot liquids that could stain and scald people increases the risk considerably. Even with the use of “leak proof” bags mentioned in the patent, there are still a lot of kinks to work out before such technology becomes practical.

That could explain why IBM sees the patent filing not as a definite endpoint, but as a way to encourage others to refine the concept. “IBM encourages our researchers to pursue their interests even though not all of their inventions become commercial products," spokeswoman Amanda Carl told USA Today. "By publishing their inventions as patents, we give our researchers the recognition they deserve and make their work public, so it can inspire new innovations."

Yeah, it’s definitely it creepy that drones may one day know when you’re tired. But is easy access to coffee without having to acknowledge another human being a worthwhile tradeoff? Maybe. Consider yourself lucky that—for a little while, at least— drones might be more interested in supporting your caffeine addiction than hunting you down.

 

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