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2 downtown Portland coffee shops using robots to help limit spread of coronavirus

In J Coffee and Swee2o in downtown each have a "robot barista" serving contact-free drinks to customers.

PORTLAND, Ore. — In J Coffee in downtown Portland has a new team member providing contact-free drinks. 

Owner Joe Yang has a true passion for coffee. That passion has won him several U.S. coffee roasting championships. 

He owned a coffee shop in China before opening In J Coffee on Southwest Park Avenue two years ago. The shop offers a variety of coffee and specialty drinks. 

"I wanted to have my own shop because I want the customer to try the coffee from my hands and from my ideas," said Yang.

Things were going very well until the pandemic hit. Like most businesses, traffic dropped and worry set in. Yang, who was a computer science major in college, teamed up with several of his computer programming friends to come up with a way to keep customers and the business safe. 

The solution? A robotic barista arm programmed to make and safely serve coffee with no physical contact, limiting the spread of coronavirus. 

It takes a month for Yang and his friends to program and build one of these robots, which cost $50,000 to make. The robot was in a testing phase back in May but is now fully operational.

"The governor just said that we have a four-week freeze, so I think this is perfect for the coffee shop to survive," said Yang. "I think the no-contact on that side is good for customers." 

Customers can either download the app or order at a kiosk for coffee from the robot. He said people should think of the robot barista as a helper, not a replacement. 

Credit: CK
Robot barista at 'Swee 2 O' in downtown Portland

As Oregon tries to keep the spread of the virus under control, residents could start seeing the robot barista in more places. 

Yang put in a similar robot barista model at Swee2o Drinks and Desserts off West Burnside Street downtown. He is in talks with other Portland businesses to potentially collaborate and bring a robot barista to them. 

While his head knows code, his heart knows coffee, and the robot barista is the perfect mixture of both. Yang hopes to open his second coffee shop on Southwest Yamhill next year, complete with a robot barista. 

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