Upon arrival at this unique Budapest café, a child-sized robot greets you in English, before a digitally controlled server, trays in hand and eyes of ruby red, rolls by your table to deliver your order. This is not a scene from science fiction. Robot-staffed Enjoy Café is a new addition to Budapest’s hangouts, where those who enter get a virtual taste of the future, right by the Corvin Quarter, a contemporary Budapest retail and leisure hub.
From the outside, Enjoy Café looks just like any ordinary Budapest hangout, where people from the adjacent apartments enjoy a daily buffet breakfast, while guests from the street drop by for a tea or a glass of wine. But as you peek through the picture windows, a scene from the future will catch your eye. Parked by the door is a plastic figure, no taller than a six-year-old child, to welcome guests with automated actions, digitally designed.
This is Pepper, a robot receptionist who can imitate sounds from a cow’s moo to a car crash, but if you ask, it could also shake it to rowdy rock tunes, turning the café into a dance floor that this computerised creature will own for the next banging tune or two.
Pepper is undoubtedly the restaurant’s star attraction with both children and grown-ups. But it’s not the only fancy phenomenon programmed to serve customers. To assist the café’s waitstaff, a duo of man-sized robots glide between the tables to deliver guests their order, coffee, hot chocolate or flatbread. Meanwhile, the robot will politely request those blocking their path to move.
Behind this concept unique to Budapest is an IT business called E-Szoftverfejlesztő Kft, who have been developing integrated systems, including artificial intelligence for local companies. Tapping into the fast-evolving world of AI computer systems, the technology firm launched its Enjoy Robotics Division to concentrate their resources on research and development.
Starring Pepper, the serving staff and a dozen diverse bots, toys and functional machines, Enjoy Café is a pilot project designed to attract and train future generation of robotics engineers. Encountering this engaging and entertaining technology is hoped to inspire children to turn their passion for robots into a profession when they grow up.
At Enjoy Café, kids can interact with various robots and instruct them to do push-ups or to dance Gangnam Style. The little ones are also those who approach Pepper without any preconceptions and treat the robot as if it was just another child. This interactive front-desk attendant is usually asked questions about its name and age.
Featuring hands playfully clenching into a fist as it moves and constantly seeking to make eye contact, the presence of Pepper prompts a more controversial reaction among adults, who often ominously read the end of humanity into this pioneering Budapest project.
Enjoy Café owner Tibor Csizmazia explains, “This is not what we see in movies like The Terminator. Some people imagine robots thinking like humans and acting totally independently, eventually gaining total control over our lives. But in fact, robots are here to help us, just the way they assist our staff at Enjoy Café. If robotics ever evolves to the development of AI that operates without any human control whatsoever, it’s still very far away from the technology of today”.