Robots to pour java at York coffee shop

Will robots be taking jobs away from workers at a York City coffee shop?

Not exactly.

They will, however, be helping to percolate some fun from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on April 6 when robotics company York Exponential brings engineers and robots to downtown York coffee shop i-ron-ic for Robot Day.

“I’m not sure what to expect, but it would be great if we could get one in here to do dishes,” said David Smith, co-owner of i-ron-ic. 

Patrons of the 256 W. Philadelphia St. shop will have the opportunity to enjoy a cup of coffee or hot chocolate served up by robotic barista and collaborative robot Robo-Rista. Coffee and hot chocolate will be made by a member of the i-ron-ic staff and placed in an insulated carafe. Robo-Rista will take it from there.

“We believe it’s just the beginning of humans and robots working together,” John McElligott, CEO of York Exponential, said Monday.

The collaborative robot, or cobot, McElligott said, is designed to work alongside human workers, whereas industrial robots are often caged off to keep humans safe while performing tasks.

The engineers behind Robo-Rista – Danielle Schultz, James Moll and Robert “Nick” Vandemark – developed the collaborative robot so that when coffee (or hot chocolate) runs out, it will alert its human counterpart to refill it.

In addition to Robo-Rista, patrons will also meet Vincent van Gogh-Bot and Bionic-Bot. After taking a digital image of an individual, Vincent van Gogh-Bot will sketch a robotic-style portrait. Vandemark said a lower-resolution portrait could be completed in one minute and 20 seconds, adding that not only will patrons have the experience of interacting with a robot, but also get a physical memento.


Bionic-Bot is a robot that patrons can take for a drive using an arm band. With some help from an engineer, the robot will mimic the arm movements of a patron.


The event coincides with National Robotics Week. McElligott said there’s going to be an explosion in the robotics field within the next few years, and he felt it was important to have a robot in the city to engage the community.

“We want people asking questions and getting engaged,” McElligott said. “This is the future … and it’s already here now.”

York Exponential gives employers the opportunity to augment their workforce by hiring cobots hourly or by contract on a permanent or temporary basis.


“We don’t automate, we augment. We want to make sure that our robots are not taking people’s jobs; they’re saving jobs,” McElligott said, adding that Pennex Aluminum Co. is currently using one of York Exponential’s robots at its facility in Wellsville in northern York County.

Emily Thurlow
​Emily Thurlow covers York County​ for the Central Penn Business Journal. Have a tip? Drop her a line at ethurlow@cpbj.com.

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