• NNA/Kyodo

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East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) will start testing fully autonomous robotic baristas this December to serve coffee at its Tokyo and Yokohama stations, in a tie-up with a Singaporean retail technology startup.

The company said the planned test-marketing involves the Ella robotic barista system developed by Crown Technologies Holding Pte. Ltd., which has had a business partnership with the railway operator since late last year.

The unmanned system serves coffee through an automated ordering, serving and cashless payment process. It can serve more than 200 types of blended coffee and allows customers to use dedicated apps and railway-related IC cards for payment.

JR East expects the upcoming market research at two of the busiest stations in Japan to pave the way for it to provide loyal customers with customized coffee by using artificial intelligence analysis of their preferences.

It also envisions providing such an offering as a “coffee subscription service” to commuter pass holders. And a plan is in the works to create a Japan-based joint venture with Crown Technologies to operate these robo-barista services.

The collaboration between the companies is built around the idea of a resolution platform designed to tackle chronic problems on the JR East side, including labor shortages and declining passenger traffic, with the use of the startup’s innovative technology.

JR East opened the “One & Co” co-working space in Singapore in August 2019 with the aim of providing opportunities for exchanges between, in particular, Japanese and local businesses.

This led JR East to invest in Crown Technologies in a deal signed last December through JR East Business Development SEA Pte. Ltd., a local subsidiary, in the run-up to the robotic barista project in Japan. The investment amount has not yet been disclosed.

“We are moving on to promote cocreation activities further through collaborations with foreign startups that assemble at the One & Co space,” a JR East official said.

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