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The future of dining is full of robotic servers and sensorial clouds

Welcome to the future of dining, where robotic waiters serve you sensorial clouds


A robotic waiter delivering sensorial clouds to your table might seem like the future, but the future is now at ArtScience.

The cafe and culture lab, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is serving up an innovative menu that explores the intersection where science meets culinary arts and mixology. At ArtScience, you’ll find that it’s not just about the food; it’s also about experimenting with new technology, in order to create a conversation surrounding sustainability and the future of our planet. Can this discussion become an essential component of today’s dining experience? At Artscience, surrounded by all kinds of unfamiliar equipment and thought-provoking art installations, it’s unavoidable.

Leading the movement behind the bar is bar director Tenzin Samdo, who knows just as much about endangered animals and passion fruit foams as he does about creating cocktails that are almost too pretty to drink. Once you get a few pictures, though, you’ll certainly want to taste these concoctions.

Samdo, a Tibetan refugee who grew up in India, fell in love with mixology while working at a bar in Boston. He began to devise his own unique cocktails, and a friend encouraged him to post pictures on Instagram. Now, Samdo has amassed quite the following, as well as a number of prestigious awards.

Each offering on Samdo’s menu is inspired by a particular animal and the environment in which that species lives. Take, for example, the Pika. A relative of the rabbit, the American pika lives in the mountains on the western side of the country. Because of the pika's intolerance to higher temperatures, several studies have found that global warming is causing their populations to decline. In honor of the tiny creature, the ArtScience drink bearing its name makes use of spices associated with high-altitude cooking.

The garnishing process is equal parts an art and a science. Samdo uses tweezers to painstakingly place certain components. For the Pika, he takes a single petal from a bouquet of flowers and positions it with much care. A decorating station in the middle of the bar encourages the mixologists to show their artistic side, while the science reaches beyond the environmental inspiration. Several of the drinks involve edible foam, like the pisco-based Titi Monkey.

And you might look down at your beverage to find a pictorial representation of the namesake animal smiling back at you, which, yes, you can drink.

A curious carafe sits on the bar, looking like it was taken straight from the laboratory. It’s the same machine that ArtScience’s friendly robotic server, named Cafe Gita, brings around to diners. An invention of Harvard professor and ArtScience founder (slash mad scientist) David Edwards, Le Whaf can turn any liquid into a sensory cloud. Inhaling the flavorful fog allows you to enjoy the full taste of the liquid without the calories. (The calories in one “whaf” are negligible, but you’ll take in a slightly more noticeable amount of calories by whaffing for longer periods of time.)

In the case of alcohol, a whaf is also without the inebriating effects. Edwards makes the distinction that Le Whaf is not creating vapor but a cloud consisting primarily of air. A vaporized cocktail, by comparison, would still get you drunk, whereas you’ll stay sober and hangover-free with Le Whaf.

The process might seem magical, but it’s based firmly in science. It involves piezoelectric crystals in the base of the device, which vibrate to create ultrasound waves, which in turn transform the liquid into tiny droplets resembling a cloud. Is it a dieting trick? Is it the future? It’s something to be experienced, that’s for sure. And Cafe Gita is happy to deliver it.

You can purchase Le Whaf at ArtScience, but you're likely to also find yourself inquiring how to adopt a Cafe Gita of your own. Star Wars has demonstrated that robots can, in fact, be adorable, and Cafe Gita is a fine example of this. Watching Gita follow Samdo around the restaurant and down the sidewalk outdoors is akin to watching a puppy follow its owner.

The robot even hesitates before entering back into the restaurant, in such a way that makes you wonder if any part of it could possibly be alive. Really, though. Could it be? These types of questions are commonplace during a meal at ArtScience. What's this? How did they make that? What does that machine do? And the other machine over there, what's its purpose? How does it all work?

And the one overarching question: Have we finally reached the future?

Which endangered species are you?

Endangered is the second most severe conservation status, as classified by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Many of the populations on the list are suffering from poaching, habitat loss, and food supply shortages. Find out which endangered species you are with this quiz, and then take things one step further by learning how you can help.

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