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Body language key in getting served first at bar, scientists say

According to a September 16 news release from the University of Bielefeld, Germany, scientists at the academic institution recently completed a study of how drink orders are placed at the bar.  During the study, the Bielefeld research team analyzed how the body language of potential customers helps bartenders identify who wants to place an order and who does not.  In dim lighting, the din of overlapping conversations, and loud music, bar tenders must master multitasking to serve their customers.

The research team discovered that real-life observations were at odds with the common belief that bar customers wave to signal that they would like to order a drink.  The analysis of the real-life data showed that it is critical how customers position themselves at the bar counter.  The findings were then input in the “brain” of the robotic bartender James.  Following the study, the Bielefeld scientists published their findings in the online research journal Frontiers in Psychology.

The study is part of the European Union project “James,” or Joint Action in Multimodal Embodied Systems.  Dr. Jan de Ruiter’s Psycholinguistics Research Group at Bielefeld University is one of the project partners.

The robot is named “James,” after the research project.  The “head” is a tablet computer with oversized eyes, which can create eye contact with the bar customers.  James’ mouth moves in sync with its speech.  The one-armed metal body that forms James’ torso is fixed behind the bar.  James accepts drink orders, reaches for the drink using its arm and a four-fingered hand and serves the drinks to its customers.

“In order to respond appropriately to its customers the robot must be able to [recognize] human social [behavior],” said Professor De Ruiter.

“Currently, we are working on the robot’s ability to recognize when a customer is bidding for its attention,” said De Ruiter.  “Thus, we have studied the process of ordering a drink in real life.”  James requires a precise definition of which signals indicate an order and which do not.  In the absence of a proper definition, James will misinterpret its customers’ signals.  Accordingly, it would annoy or discomfort people by responding inappropriately to their behavior.

“Effectively, the customers identify themselves as ordering and non-ordering people through their [behavior],” said psychologist Dr. Sebastian Loth, a coauthor of the study.

“With the update [to James’ programming], James only talks to people whose position and body posture clearly indicate that they wish to order a drink,” said Loth.  So, only if the system is positive that the customers would like to order drinks, James will respond in Received Pronunciation: “How can I help you?”

Forget about cutting in line though.  James retains the order of the customers by memorizing who came first.

Jonathan Marker

Jonathan Marker

Jonathan Marker is an experienced technical writer and research analyst working in the DC Metro Area. His areas of experience and expertise include aerospace and defense, natural science, and military history. He has a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics and Aviation Weather from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Military Studies, with a concentration in Air Warfare.When he is not at work, Jonathan enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter, writing fiction, and reading.
About Jonathan Marker (1112 Articles)
Jonathan Marker is an experienced technical writer and research analyst working in the DC Metro Area. His areas of experience and expertise include aerospace and defense, natural science, and military history. He has a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics and Aviation Weather from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Military Studies, with a concentration in Air Warfare.When he is not at work, Jonathan enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter, writing fiction, and reading.
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