Coffee Delivery Drones Are Now a Thing. But at What Cost?

IBM has secured a patent for a caffeine-delivery drone to help its exhausted employees, and it begs the question of why workers face this level of exhaustion in the first place.

Image by Tom Eversley / EyeEm/ Getty Images

Most employees can relate to the occasional afternoon slump, or the Monday morning sleepiness that warrants an extra espresso shot every now and then – but at what point are we placing a band-aid over the larger burnout epidemic that has taken over our culture?

IBM, the tech corporation that’s been an industry leader for over a century, recently secured a patent for coffee delivery drones, which will use artificial intelligence to detect when an employee is tired, and deliver a cup of coffee in a leak-proof bag to their desk. The drones will reportedly use voice and facial-recognition software to operate, utilizing cameras and biometric sensors to scan for people who have asked for a drink, either by waving or through an app. The drones will also be able to find those who appear to be in a “pre-determined cognitive state” of fatigue, and even collect data on workers’ specific preferences, such as what kind of milk they prefer, and what time they like their morning cup.

The idea behind the technology is simple: to keep employees awake, and to keep them working. But before we applaud IBM for inventing the future of productivity, it’s time we take a step back and address the stress-inducing conditions that require this kind of technology to begin with. We often talk about the benefits of innovative features that are moving society forward, but if we’ve gotten to a point where we need caffeine delivered on a drone to maintain a baseline cognitive state, there’s a more serious problem at hand.

Other large tech companies, such as Apple and Google, have made news in recent months for hopping on the digital wellness train – taking their software in a different direction by encouraging healthy work habits and setting boundaries with devices. With the introduction of Gmail’s new “Out of Office” settings and Apple’s iOS features that help users set limits on screen time, companies are recognizing the cultural shift toward unplugging and recharging.

The burnout epidemic has increasingly been proven to cause workers stress, anxiety, and chronic exhaustion across countless professions. And if employees are too exhausted to get through a week of work, it might be time to reconsider a company’s normalized work environment.

Overwork and lack of sleep may be common in the workplace, but these habits are not healthy, and they’re certainly not doing us any good in the long run. Instead of inventing devices that act as a quick fix for our cultural burnout, let’s instead create work environments that acknowledge what makes us human and celebrate that. 

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