It takes a strong arm to strong-arm technology into tech leader Japan, but ELLA the robotic barista brewed a hard-to-refuse proposition.

Japan’s largest passenger train line operator East Japan Railway Company (JR East) has invested in technology to streamline the sale of coffee at its 1,657 train stations that serve 17 million commuters daily.

High-tech kiosks at the train stations will be capable of dishing out 200 cups of barista-quality coffee per hour, 24 hours a day and seven days a week—due to the use of an intelligent robotic arm powered by an patented proprietary IoT-connected software and external hardware.

Each kiosk features interactive transparent display screens and a mobile app ordering system with its own payment gateway and e-wallet. This allows the operators to tap into a myriad of engagement possibilities such as advertisements and notifications localized and targeted directly at end users.

At the back end, computer vision powered by AI monitors the kiosk 24/7 for any abnormalities that may affect the robotic arm’s operations. The robotic barista is called ELLA (named after the wife of the firm’s founder) and it is the brainchild of Crown Technologies, a smart retail tech solutions firm.

Powering the kiosk supply logistics is a fulfillment module, powered by its own mobile app, that employs predictive analytics to forecast demand with the power of big data and digitalize supply chain management with only a lean fulfilment team.

Just in time for the Olympics

The roll out of this move to enable unmanned and contactless retail operations in high-traffic environments is expected to meet the increased demands of the delayed Tokyo Olympics 2020 in 2021.

The partnership was brokered by a non-profit governmental outfit Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). According to its managing director based in Singapore, Eiji Hisatomi: “JETRO has been working to create collaborations in digital transformation between large Japanese corporates and foreign tech companies. After hearing from Crown Technologies, we contacted a few Japanese corporates that might be interested in what they offer, where JR East responded positively. We are glad that the conversation was fruitful for both parties.”

According to JR East’s managing director of business development in South-east Asia, Toshio Omiyama: “ELLA is transformational with the use of AI-powered collaborative robots and ensures safety in the post-COVID landscape as she operates in a sealed chamber and is contactless. (The technology) fits well within JR East’s mid-to-long-term vision for technological innovation—a 20-year plan that harnesses the cutting edge of incredible advances in IoT, big data and AI to address Japan’s labor shortage due to the decrease in working-age population.”

ELLA’s owner, Keith Tan, CEO and founder of Crown Technologies, said: “This is as monumental as it gets for our first investment. Japan has long been known to embrace innovation and remain at the forefront of using AI and robotics to solve social issues and achieve economic growth. By placing their bet on our technology that we’ve built in Singapore to serve the exact purpose, it not only puts us on the map, but is also the strongest testament to the vision that my team and I have worked tirelessly to build upon in the last two years.”