Somabar’s Robot Bartender Trying to Be the “Keurig of Cocktails”

Xconomy New York — 

For aficionados of cocktails: a startup is developing a smartphone app-controlled machine that can create a vast array of drinks at home.

Down at Startup Alley during this week’s TechCrunch Disrupt New York event, I caught up with familiar faces from New York such as LumiFi and Dash—and then I came across the Somabar team from the WeWork Hollywood co-working space in Los Angeles, CA.

Somabar is producing a robot bartender that would sit on kitchen counters and link via Wi-Fi to smartphones and tablets. When someone wants to make a drink, he or she fills the device’s separate containers with alcohol, juice, club soda, or other ingredients. The smartphone app lets users pick from some 300 cocktail recipes, with leeway for personalized variations.

Each container, called a pod, on the machine is electronically tagged so the Somabar knows what it is being loaded with, said CEO Dylan Purcell-Lowe. “It makes tailor-made menus based on the ingredients you have in there,” he said. Somabar can also offer suggestions, which would require alternate ingredients, based on what users want.

At least a few consumers are eager to own robot bartenders. Purcell-Lowe and CTO Ammar Jangbarwala raised $312,707 for Somabar through a Kickstarter campaign that ended in January, surpassing their $50,000 goal. They also raised an undisclosed seed round last October from angel investors, said Purcell-Lowe.

There are rival cocktail-making machines on the market, including one from Monsieur that costs about $4,000, Purcell-Lowe said. Somabar is set to retail for $429, he said, and uses connected smartphones and tablets to help keep costs down. “Rather than have a large LCD screen that costs $800 and increases the price, everyone has them on their phone,” he said.

Going forward, the team plans to develop disposable, pre-filled pods, Purcell-Lowe said, with contents from various alcohol brands, in addition to users filling the machine from bottles.

The original idea for Somabar was to create a large machine for bars or cocktail lounges, Purcell-Lowe said. But semiautomatic ways to mix drinks have been on the market for a while, he said. Then the team saw a different opportunity serving consumers at home, he said.

Purcell-Lowe said Somabar can be a way for consumers to get a taste of unexplored cocktails. “If you really like sour and bourbon, but you’ve only ever had whiskey sours, this allows you to discover other drinks you might like,” he said.

Somabar is in the preorder stage, Purcell-Lowe said, and there are plans for a December debut at 130 different stores across country.