'Are you thirsty?' This AI-enabled robot can bring beer to holiday parties

Heineken’s cooler innovation, powered by robotics and artificial intelligence, is supposed to follow users around.

Cargo-carrying robots have yet to go mainstream, but they certainly make for appealing internet videos.

They tote groceries around the supermarket and hold your luggage at the airport. In one wild display, someone retrofitted a tank of beer, a nozzle and a camera onto a robotic dog, which then showed a unique “peeing” functionality.

Now, there’s a stuff-toting machine that doubles as an autonomous cooler designed to follow you around the pool or backyard with a dozen cans of beer.

The Dutch brewing company Heineken recently unveiled the “Beer Outdoor Transporter” — a branding concept cooler that uses motion sensors to trail behind its owner. The company launched an online raffle on Thursday for people who want to own one.

While it can’t apply your sunscreen, blow off the sand from the beach or cook your Independence Day hot dogs, it seemingly solves one issue.

“Nobody loves lugging around like a giant cooler and sweating in the 100-degree heat,” said Joshua Egan, brand director at Heineken USA. It was built around a “charming” AI personality and was shown this summer to mark the nation’s return to semi-normalcy after gatherings last summer were discouraged due to the coronavirus. It was also unveiled to draw attention to the brand’s new beer can design, as the beverage category faces increasing competition from hard seltzers.

It doesn’t have to house Heineken products. The robot is constructed to tote around ice, so you could seemingly use any beverage you’d want to keep cold.

The robot looks like a mix between WALL-E, the animated waste-collecting droid from Pixar films, and a traditional green garbage truck. It’s about knee-high, sits on six wheels and can talk to its owner. “Down here! I’m the cooler with wheels,” the droid can say.

In the front is a touch screen and a series of cameras and sensors to help it avoid obstacles. At the rear, there’s a cooler backpack, branded with Heineken’s logo. The company won’t reveal how many it’s making, only that it worked with a series of third parties over the past several months to get it built. Winners will be announced within the next week, and the product will ship from Los Angeles soon after. It hasn’t mentioned plans to sell the robot beyond that.

The new beer robot serves a similar purpose to one already on the market, and another that took the internet by storm. Gita, a two-wheel robotic vehicle by Piaggio Fast Forward, carries up to 40 pounds of cargo around big cities today. It’s expensive, costing $3,250, but it’s the first consumer robot in the U.S. with such functionality. In April, a YouTuber gave Boston Dynamics’ robotic dog Spot the ability to pee beer into a red cup. A video of the project went viral, reaching more than 100 million views.

Heineken’s robot can’t do that. But it seems to be capable of rolling through grass, over boardwalks and on concrete with ease. It doesn’t have legs, so it can’t travel smoothly up staircases. That means, depending on where you’re going, you may still need to pick it up. And it’s kind of heavy, weighing 70 pounds before you add the ice or drinks. It can travel 15 miles between charges, the company says. The robot features two modes. One allows the machine to follow you. The other allows operators to control where it goes via an app.

In a promotional video, the machine is shown trailing about 5 feet behind its owner, traversing a swimming pool. “Are you thirsty?” it asks. Heineken is supplying raffle winners with a companion app-enabled smartphone to pair with the robot.

It’s the latest branding stunt pulled by Heineken, a $60 billion brewing company recovering from a pandemic-spurred drop in restaurant sales. Last year, the brand’s division in Brazil created a billboard that doubled as a grab-and-go outdoor bar at a time when food establishments globally suffered from coronavirus-related lockdowns. In February, the company said it would shed jobs, 8,000 jobs worldwide to offset the loss.

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