By Jon Keller

CAMBRIDGE (CBS) – The neighborhood bar is an iconic part of American life, a place to gather with friends, catch the game, or even share your sorrows with a sympathetic bartender.

But Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) has a bone to pick about the use of millions of taxpayer dollars to fund a research project at MIT involving robot bartenders.

“Did you hear the one about three robots who walk into a bar?” Flake joked on the Senate floor recently. But his tone quickly turned serious. “With our national debt now exceeding $21 trillion, taxpayers should not have to pick up the Pentagon’s tab for beer bots.”

A robot bartender, or “beer bot.” (CBS)

But MIT says the project is about building robots to perform crucial tasks — like delivering medical supplies to disaster areas — and the beer service was just a fun way for students to test their work. And in a statement to WBZ, the university pushed back hard, saying:

“Senator Flake is well-known in academic circles for his propensity to misrepresent the goals of government-funded research, and this example is no exception.”

But make no mistake, beer bots are big money. And there’s a long history of academic research – sometimes relying on public dollars – resulting in commercial innovations that make a lot of money for the creators.

Another MIT lab developed similar technology that’s already in use in bars and on cruise ships, serving up more than 300,000 drinks at $13 a pop. It’s part of an automation revolution that could replace up to 400 million jobs over the next twelve years.

And for Flake, funding that with tax dollars is problematic.

“At the very least,” he says, “this may be the last call for the beer bots.”

Jon Keller

  1. Neal Hunter says:

    Can you please put your 400 million jobs replaced over 12 years. It sounds like a world wide estimate as there are only about 140 million total jobs in USA.