We've seen a lot of news stories about robots that can bring their owners a beer, or bartender robots that can pour a drink - some of them even made out of Legos. But they usually have no idea what type of alcoholic beverage they are delivering. It could be beer, vodka, tap water, or motor oil - they have no idea, and don't really care - they just go through the motions.
A new experimental robot developed by Professor Atsushi Hashimoto of Mie University and the NEC robotics group fixes that shortcoming. They've developed a 'sommelier' robot that can actually sample and identify wines.
The robot uses a sensor that irradiates a sample of the wine with infrared light, analyzes the ingredients, and compares the results with it's database.
The robot can successfully identify 30 different samples and typically reports it's results along with details like the origin of the wine and it's attributes within a half a minute. Currently the robots taste sensor is mounted in a small tray connected to the robot, but work is underway to miniaturize it to incorporate it into the robots hand (since the robot doesn't have a mouth or tongue...).
It isn't limited to just identifying types of wines, and can be also used to distinguish the sweetness of an apple, the kind of cheese, and other similar tests.
NEC Develops Sommelier Robot (Japanese)