Designing a robot that can mix and pour the perfect martini isn't terribly difficult—once you get the portions and motions nailed down, it's good to go. But designing a robot bartender that's also able to discern who at a noisy crowded bar is looking for a drink—based on subtle gestures or posture—is a whole other level of complexity that researchers at Bielefeld University in Germany are trying to crack.

Auditory signals, like simply asking for another beer, are relatively easy to interpret. But in a night club setting where the music is blaring, there's too much room for misinterpretation to rely on that. So the researchers placed cameras in German and English pubs to study how patrons physically gestured or postured for a drink, and were able to determine the most common approaches to getting a bartender's attention.

Not surprisingly, the most subtle but common approach, used by almost ninety percent of the bar patrons studied, involved positioning themselves close to the counter and directly facing one of the staff. Using this information the researchers have been refining how James the robot bartender interacts with customers. It helps those who want drinks get them faster, and saves those who are just leaning on the bar from being harassed by a bug-eyed robo mixologist. [James Project via Bielefeld University via BBC via Gizmag]

A Robot Bartender That Knows Who's Subtly Signaling for a DrinkS