IBM has the technology, but will airborne coffee ever fly?

By Adam Campbell-Schmitt
August 22, 2018

For coffee drinkers, sometimes it takes a few cups throughout the day to make it to the finish line. But, of course, when you're busy at work, there's not always time to get up and scrounge up a cup of joe. Now, thanks to recently filed patents, the technology could potentially exist to not only bring you that coffee via drone, the drone could actually anticipate you craving some caffeine in the first place.

According to USA Today, IBM has developed a concept for a drone that drops off coffee and monitors certain facial, body, and biometric data to determine when people nearby may be in the mood for a pick-me-up. That is to say, it could either connect to your FitBit to determine if you're losing steam, or it could even just use a camera to notice you're nodding off based on your body language. Then it would use Bluetooth or other GPS data from a device like your phone to ensure it's flitting over to the right person. The drone is designed to operate indoors, in an office, coffee shop, or event space (so don't expect scalding hot lattes whizzing down city blocks), and it's possible it could even be flagged down like a waiter.

While this technology may seem acutely attuned to only certain coffee-appropriate circumstances, this is one of those instances where the parts are greater than the sum, so to speak. All of the individual innovations have numerous other applications as well. For example, the body language scanning could give bartenders or security personnel at an event or festival another set of eyes on who might be getting too tipsy, and any robot, airborne or otherwise, that can understand it's being waved at would be useful for driverless taxis or, say, an automated dessert cart.

In the end, the patent is less about launching a fleet of drones into Starbucks and more about letting IBM's engineers put a stamp on their work. "IBM encourages our researchers to pursue their interests even though not all of their inventions become commercial products," spokeswoman Amanda Carl told USA Today. "By publishing their inventions as patents, we give our researchers the recognition they deserve and make their work public, so it can inspire new innovations."

Still, the thought of a coffee drone isn't too far off from the way drones are already being used to deliver pizza, burritoshot dogs, Uber Eats, and Amazon packages. So if someone does decide to launch a to-go cup over our heads, just make sure the lid's on tight.

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