Introduction

If lattes could fly

It’s a familiar feeling: mid-morning, exploiting the first caffeine high of the day, at your Everest of efficiency. Yet before long comes a realization that the cup you filled before reaching your desk is empty. What to do? Abandon your station—risking all the in-transit distractions that come with refueling—or stay put, convincing yourself you can withstand the pre-lunch doldrums?

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coffeecopter

If some Amsterdam entrepreneurs have their way, this dilemma will soon die out thanks to the Coffee Copter, a drone built to bring cups of fresh, handcrafted coffee to the caffeine-needy right where they work.

When Starbucks announced this fall that it would soon be offering delivery to select customers in the U.S., Dutch media went abuzz—and turned local attention to this video of Dutch-invented Coffee Copter’s test flight through A-Lab, a former Shell laboratory repurposed as an office space in Amsterdam Noord.

The video begins with the tap of a finger. An office worker places an order via the Coffee Copter app, and the request is instantly transmitted to the café on the building’s ground floor. The barista makes the drink—rosetta everlovingly included—and then places the lidded paper cup on the waiting drone, docked at the bar. Rotors spin and off it goes, flying away, up two flights of stairs, down a hall and into an office room, where an H-marked landing pad receives the gentle touchdown. Human hands retrieve the goods. 

 

"How awesome would it be if we had drones flying around with coffee?"

Floris van Luttervelt, Coffee Virus

While the drone in the video is a prototype, work on a far more developed model of the Coffee Copter is underway. Behind it are six small companies whose leaders admit that the project has been a fine excuse to connect with kindred spirits over the offerings of their colleagues at Coffee Virus—an in-building coffee pop-up that became the official A-Lab lunch canteen, serving espresso drinks and filter coffee made from beans by Dutch roaster Bocca.

Floris van Luttervelt, Coffee Virus’ co-founder and head barista, says that the Coffee Copter vision came soon after: “How awesome would it be if we had drones flying around with coffee?” he remembers remarking to an A-Lab regular. “‘Yeah, that would be funny,’” said the second, before adding: ‘Oh, I know somebody who makes drones.’”

That somebody was Ermin de Koning, the industrial designer who founded Skeyework, a company specialized in drone-captured imaging, and also someone who happens to spend his spare time pan-roasting Ethiopian coffee beans at home.

“The guy who makes it fly,” as he calls himself, and his team, are now focused on the Coffee Copter’s third iteration. This time building the device from scratch, they expect to produce a smaller, lighter model with improved sensing devices and a flat one-piece design that creates the illusion of a “flying service tray.”

Still, safety trumps all. “The most important two things are collision avoidance and in-building navigation,” stresses de Koning.

Other refinements have yet to be thought through. Weight capacity and speed will determine which beverages make suitable cargo. Van Luttervelt acknowledges that the Coffee Copter’s one-minute test flight would not do justice to espresso.

“Milk-based drinks or filter coffees,” he stresses, are the best choices for drone delivery.“Filter coffees, they develop their flavor pattern when they cool down, so the transportation time would be ideal to serve the coffee and drink it directly, at its best possible flavor.”

Plus, the drone is meant to carry multiple cups. “Every coffee has its own size and its own weight, so that’s quite a challenge, to balance all the different combinations,” says De Koning. The designer’s wishful thinking? An evenly weighted order of four double espresso macchiatos, every time.

To get the Coffee Copter literally off the ground, though, investors are needed. The project, with ambitions to apply its perfected standards to other technology, is currently a labor of love, done in the collaborators’ spare time.

“Every coffee has its own size and its own weight, so that’s quite a challenge, to balance all the different combinations"

Ermin de Koning

While many in the world’s thirstiest coffee-drinking country look forward to having the mocha mountain come to Mohammad, so to speak, Dutch detractors have expressed worry that the drone might overly minimize human contact.

But van Luttervelt foresees the Coffee Copter delivering to clients whose palates he has already become acquainted with, in person, on terra firma.

“With an app, I’d know who’s ordering, so I’d know their flavor,” he says. “We can still make the coffee and put our passion in it. If somebody is really busy, it can be handy to use the drone.”

Floris de Langen, co-founder of Unc Inc, the tech company that designed the app, is similarly pragmatic. “Just imagine [I’m in] a skyscraper in Dubai with a coffee place on the ground level, and I want to get some coffee while I’m on the 310th floor. A drone could work—especially if it takes the elevator,” he laughs.

Karina Hof is a freelance writer and editor based in Amsterdam. This is her first piece for Sprudge.com

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