August 24, 2018updated 04 Jan 2019 4:35pm

IBM files patent for coffee-delivery drone that can detect tiredness

By Ellen Daniel

In what may sound like a dream come true for coffee drinkers, a coffee-delivery drone that can predict when you next need a caffeine boost has been patented by computer manufacturing company IBM.

The US Patent Office filing outlines plans for a coffee-delivering drone, designed to operate in offices. It describes how the drone will be able to autonomously fly to a group of people, scan the crowd, and, based on an electronic analysis of sensor data, detect individuals with a “predetermined cognitive state” to deliver the drink to.

Food and drink delivery via robot is nothing new, with Starship Technologies’ self-driving robots delivering food to customers in several locations, and Dominos trialling the use of drones to deliver pizza since 2016. However, what sets this apart is the fact that deliveries can be carried out entirely autonomously, with drones able to “sense” when bleary-eyed individuals may be in need of their next cup of joe.

According to the patent, cognitive state, or tiredness, can be assessed based on sleep quality (using data from devices such as Fitbits), time of day, and complexity of work schedule, as well as biometrics such as blood pressure, pupil dilation and facial expression.

Alternatively the coffee-delivery drone will be able to detect when an individual has gestured that they would like a drink, or respond to voice commands or a mobile app.

The patent has even suggested that the coffee-delivery drone could harness social psychology to increase coffee consumption, by “first providing coffee to a person who is popular, famous or otherwise has a high social status” and encourage others to also order a cup.

To combat the obvious hazards of flying hot drinks, IBM has outlined several safety features such as carrying the drink in a leak-proof bag in the event of mishaps. The drone would also be able to recognise when an individual is on medication that may react badly with caffeine and pass them by.

Beyond the coffee-delivery drone

The company behind the Deep Blue chess-playing computer has outlined several variations for the drone within the application, such as drones designed to deliver alcoholic drinks in bars that can detect if an individual has had one too many or is underage, and prevent any more drinks from being brought to them.

However, IBM has not indicated whether it intends to develop the drone further. IBM spokesperson Amanda Carl told USA Today:

“IBM encourages our researchers to pursue their interests even though not all of their inventions become commercial products. 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.”

Other companies are also developing ways to deliver coffee by drone, with Swiss drone logistics provider Matternet flying coffee over the city of Zurich last year.

Earlier this year, IBM showcased its Project Debater, the first ever robot equipped with the ability to “argue” with humans. The robot took part in a public debate with a human after analysing “hundreds of millions” of documents, and was able to debate on a topic it had not been prepared for.