By Mike Pomranz
June 22, 2017
© Ethan Fixel

No one wants to lose their job to a robot. But that’s especially true when you have a really, really awesome job—like beer taster. So here’s some news those in the beer quality-control business probably don’t want to hear: Scientists in Spain have invented a robot that can “taste” the difference between beers.

Researchers at the University of Valladolid in Spain have created what they call a robot tongue that can tell the difference between four types of lager with 100 percent accuracy. It has all the basic skills of a beer taster, and it never gets drunk (at least, I hope not—no one likes a belligerent robot). Scientists believe that one day technology such as this can be used for round-the-clock quality control at breweries.

Despite its name, the portable device doesn’t look much like a tongue; it is about the size of a couple of cigarette packs. “It's just a bunch of wires and buttons and computers,” María Luz Rodríguez-Méndez, a professor of inorganic chemistry, told Science 2.0. “It's an ugly thing full of cables.” But according to the team, whose research was published in the Journal of Food Engineering, the way the robot learns taste does mimic human taste, training itself to recognize different patterns.

The robot is not without its flaws, however. Equipped with four polyphenol electrodes, it was able to tell the difference between nonalcoholic lagers, pilsners, doppelbocks and European strong lagers every single time, but it was less accurate with other tests—predicting a beer’s color correctly just 76 percent of the time and nailing the alcohol strength of a beer only 86 percent of the time.

 “Humans are still better,” Méndez said. “At least for now, they are far from being replaced.” I think we can all raise a glass to that. For now.

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