January 19th. 2022
Jacob Lillie, Partner and CTO of Aillio, is a jazz musician-turned-electronic engineer-turned entrepreneur and technological wiz-kid of Aillio.
Aillio’s Head of PR Jacob Juul sat down with Aillio’s CTO for a chat about how Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence relates to coffee roasting, how AiO is different from the Bullet, and what future he envisions for the coffee industry in general.
Could you start by telling me about your background?
Jacob Lillie: Yes. I grew up in Copenhagen, Denmark. My first love was music, and jazz music in particular. I attended a music high school and had some great years studying and performing as a jazz musician in my free time. After finishing high school I moved to Paris to live out my dream of playing music and to study French. I got a job in a tourist trap of a restaurant working long nights serving Raclette. During the day I would play music on the streets with a friend of mine, often being chased by police as we had no license to play.
It was a red wine fueled romantic time of my life, but eventually I realized that it would not last, and I went back to Denmark to start a diploma course in mechanical engineering. I ended my course by writing my thesis in Thailand and eventually landed a job there. At the time Jonas was in Hong Kong, so as twins we were now closer to each other.
After a few years living on the beach and designing offshore cranes, I decided that I wanted to do a Masters degree in electronics. I packed up my things and went back to a grey, cold Copenhagen to eventually finish my Master’s in electronics engineering.
I spent the next 5 years working for different companies employing from 100k people to the small four person startup, all the while I was working on my own products in my free time. This eventually led me to start my own company and move to Thailand, where my biggest client was based.
What excites you about engineering?
For me, engineering ticks all the boxes that I find important. I have a mind that’s always analyzing and always evaluating, and engineering allows me to focus and slip into a state of concentrated solitude, while also engaging me in team work and lots of dialogue with external partners. There’s a sense of defined end-goals in engineering that I like. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment when a task has been completed and we see it right there in front of us as a physical object, or a piece of software. Additionally, working with technology keeps me at the forefront of new developments, which is exciting for me. For example, I spend a lot of time analyzing previous versions of our hardware and software as well as analyzing user feedback. That’s a way of understanding the past which reveals patterns. Those patterns in return help me predict the future, which ultimately enables me to make decisions in the present.
This is also where Machine Learning, or Artificial Intelligence if you will, comes into play.
What exactly is Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence?
I prefer the term Machine Learning (ML) to Artificial Intelligence (AI) for our part. There is absolutely nothing artificial or intelligent about it. It is just rather simple math that is pretty easy to understand. So Machine Learning is a way to create algorithms based on data, rather than modeling the whole complex system mathematically. With this you can predict what is going to happen on a very complex system with lots of input/output which would be difficult to model by math. When set up correctly, it becomes a very powerful tool, much faster and accurate than any human mind.
There’s a feedback loop where user data feeds back to the ML, which then grows smarter. In the case of AiO, that means an ever-developing machine that keeps improving, a future-proof machine that just gets better with time.
Does that mean robots will take over the coffee industry?
Haha, not quite, but it does mean a revolution is lurking around the corner. New technologies will bring unprecedented change and rapidly alter our perception of how this industry runs. And AiO to me is a symbol of the future that awaits.
Let’s talk about AiO — In what way does AiO symbolize the future for you?
AiO is first and foremost a fully automated roaster. It can be operated manually too if you so wish, however, the automation is what sets it apart.
AiO is a 2 kg professional roaster with the ability to roast any amount within 100 grams up to 2 kg. It has an almost unlimited capacity, meaning that you can keep it roasting back-to-back for as long as you like. AiO is targeting the professional market: cafes, hotels, restaurants and roasted bean resellers. The automation part means that we have completely removed the need to manually interact and oversee the roasting process. AiO will follow your roasting recipe and profile to perfection and deliver the same result every time. That means no risk of roasting the beans too much, or too little. The result is dictated by the roast recipe you select, or create.
And that’s where the variety comes in, there will be hundreds of recipes available on Roast.World (our roasting community), and these can be downloaded directly into the machine. You can also freely create your own recipes, and AiO will remember your previous roasts and clearly outline the roast data in the backend software. It basically means that the variety available is close to limitless, but you can also simply choose ready-made recipes if you do not want to go into the details. The end result will be consistent either way. So, whether you just want to press play and get sensational results, or you want to create your own recipes and experiment, AiO is for you.
Ok, so just to be clear, if I wanted to start a cafe tomorrow, having no roasting experience, could I operate AiO?
You do not need any prior roasting experience to operate AiO. As I say, we spent three years developing AiO, so that you’ll only need three minutes to understand it.
For a business, that means roasting becomes effortless. And that part is new in our industry. Before AiO it has always required a high degree of knowledge and attention to operate a coffee roaster. It has also been close to impossible to replicate roasts as that is entirely up to the person operating the machine. Just a few seconds of unawareness means a completely different result. That uncertainty and reliance on human attendance is removed with AiO. Now you can choose to oversee the roasting process, but you no longer have to.
How is AiO different from the Bullet?
Well, in many ways. The construction of AiO, for one, is 100% future-proof. And by that I mean that the build-up is modular. All the parts can be removed and replaced without the need to buy a new machine. That means you can invest in the early versions of AiO, and still rest assured that you won’t miss out on any future improvements. You will simply replace the parts that have been improved, and we will of course help you do that. The software will improve itself without any need for you to stay alert.
The Bullet is also a great roaster and will remain so. It’s different to AiO in the capacity (the Bullet has 1 kg capacity), and in the level of interaction required. While AiO is fully automated, the Bullet is partially automated. With the Bullet you still need to keep an eye on it. Also the Bullet is targeted at individuals roasting privately and on smaller operations. Don’t get me wrong, the Bullet is still an amazing machine, especially considering the price point, and some people have two or three Bullets running simultaneously, which is also an option. AiO is just another level. So it depends on your needs really.
That all sounds very cool, but can’t we just stick to coffee roasting as we know it?
Well sure, as an individual you can do what you want, but as a group we need to move forward. Progress is a part of life and an essential part of business. I love the coffee industry as much as anyone, and I want to see this industry prosper and remain relevant, and for that I believe technology is a blessing. It’s nothing to be scared of and it won’t take away from the authenticity and craftsmanship that we all love. Technology gives us tools that will remove nuisances and free up time to focus more on coffee, and on running the businesses that we have our hearts invested in.
Can we fuse the craftsmanship of coffee roasting with future technologies without losing the human part, the connection to authenticity?
Yes. As I said earlier, new technology is not in contrast to good taste and traditions. We’re not building a sterile space lab where all coffee tastes the same. On the contrary we’re opening up new opportunities, more variety and more personal choice. Roast Masters will be able to lift their craft to new heights, and newbies can simply rely on automation to achieve excellent results without the need for extensive training and knowledge. So no one is excluded here.
You’re based in Thailand. Can you talk a bit about that?
Yes. Today Thailand is my home and I run the Aillio Thailand office here in Bangkok. Thailand is a place of many facets. There’s great natural beauty, awesome food and you can live a good quality life here. It’s positioned right in the heart of Asia and has direct flights to both Denmark and Taiwan which is beneficial to me.
Professionally, Thailand is also an interesting place. There’s a rather large production of electronics here, mainly parts and components. There’s also a decent pool of workers with good skills within programming and engineering. Bangkok itself is a bustling metropolis that excites me and keeps me on my toes.
What happened to all that jazz? Is there a relation between engineering and music?
Yes, I suppose so. I’d say the ability to see patterns has some relation to music. Jazz music is basically a layered cake of patterns interacting in perfect fusion. For the untrained outsider it looks like a magical chaos, but for the musician it all makes sense.
Creativity within a framework is the best. That may sound like limitations to some, but to me it’s liberating. Understanding the fundamentals allows me to work freely on top. Just like the jazz musician improvising freely over the bass-line that defines the framework of the composition. If there are no limits, no rules and no frame, creativity tends to wander off and die a confused death in the empty void of nothingness.
Haha yeah ok, that’s a nice, dramatic image :) — Which instrument do you play?
I play the saxophone.
Alright, let’s round off our talk today with a question about the future: What is your somewhat sane vision for the future of coffee roasting, and the industry as a whole?
Somewhat sane… hmm let me think.
Ok, I see a future that is bright. I see our industry moving confidently forward, equipped with new and better tools. New technologies that will allow us all to stay relevant and let us continuously reinvent ourselves from a point of excitement.
… is there a nightmare scenario?
Absolutely. In my darkest, most feverish dreams I see AiO taking on its own life, commandeering an army of robots, enslaving mankind, and force-feeding us tasteless coffee just to generate data and send it back to the salivating, ever-expanding mother machine. And eventually shipping us all off to camps on Mars.
However I’d say that’s the least likely scenario… I remain positive and excited ;)
Thanks Jacob, it was a pleasure.