A University of Edinburgh project might just be the first fully autonomous business. The Pi-powered BitBarista accepts Bitcoin payments to dispense coffee, pays users to restock supplies, and will call a technician should a fault occur.
BitBarista is not some glorified kettle with WiFi, though. Using the Bitcoin from coffee sales, BitBarista “pays people for small services such as filling its water tank and replenishing it with coffee beans,” according to Dr Larissa Pschetz, Programme Director of Product Design and Researcher at the Centre for Design Informatics, University of Edinburgh and co‑creator of BitBarista.
When coffee stocks run low, BitBarista asks the user to select a restock vendor. These options could be ranked in price order, or by ethical preference. Larissa explains, “I was also intrigued by this idea of an autonomous coffee machine that would reduce intermediaries in the coffee trade, potentially supporting smallholder famers in developing countries.”
BitBarista is currently on a long-term trial throughout the UK, “which is revealing reactions to the machine’s autonomous features,” according to a University of Edinburgh spokesperson.
So far, Larissa has seen that “some rituals such as making coffee for colleagues were lost while others, such as watching who chose the ‘best price’ option, were created.”
The Pi controlling BitBarista uses Raspbian “and different plug‑ins to simplify tasks and connect things together,” Larissa reveals. “We also use Electrum for the BitCoin payments.” The code is on GitHub.
BitBarista might be useful for other vending machines, but Larissa warns, “The machine still needs to follow the social rules of the context where it is placed. If people think it is inappropriate they will probably turn it off.”
Asked whether there were machines where BitBarista technology might not ever be appropriate, Larissa replies, “Of course there is always space for malicious practices, but people are careful and good at figuring these things out so it wouldn’t last in the long term.”