Mr. Sato goes on a speed coffee run with no humans to hold him up…or are there?

Japan is a country that has stubbornly clung to primarily cash-based commerce while many of its peers have largely forgone coins and bills for convenient cards and devices to handle day-to-day transactions.

However, now it looks as if this society is catching up with a passion by not only embracing cashless systems but humanless ones as well. The latest example has recently popped up on a platform in Tokyo’s Akabane Station.

To learn more about it, we sent Mr. Sato to investigate and asked him to see how fast he could buy a can of coffee this way.

When he arrived at platform five and six of Akabane Station he was greeted with a large green sign that read, “Ticket To Tomorrow.” Since English was not Mr. Sato’s first language, the general hokeyness of the message went over his head, and he thought, “Cool.”

Walking towards the front he saw another English message that he didn’t really get, but it was written in a really speedy-looking font. It got Mr. Sato really excited for what was sure to be a totally streamlined shopping experience free of any hassles like line-ups.

Reaching the front of the kiosk, there was a line-up of about five people. This took a little wind out of Mr. Sato’s sails, but he figured since it was an unmanned system, the flow of people should go quickly.

He waited at the end of the line for a minute when someone informed him that this wasn’t the right line. He would have to first wait in another line in order to get a ticket that would allow him to wait in this line.

Mr. Sato went downstairs into the station and found the line-up to get into the other line-up.

▼ Mr. Sato: “Gyah!”

There were about 20 people in line ahead of our reporter, who was beginning to get a little steamed about all the delays. Still, he continued believing that because it was an AI controlled store of the future, it shouldn’t be a long wait…

But it was. The line slowly trudged forward, and when Mr. Sato was finally near the front of this line he was given a ticket.

▼ “Entrance Ticket: Unmanned AI Decision Store (One Day Only)”

Apparently the person who made this ticket mistook the kanji for “kessai” which should mean “payment” but in this case read as “decision.” Mr. Sato just shrugged his shoulders. It didn’t matter because he had another line to get to.

This time he was only behind four other people and feeling more optimistic that he would get in there soon.

While waiting, the staff explained how the system worked. Only three people were allowed in the store at once and you could only use IC cards like Suica or Pasmo. Other devices like Apple Pay would not work.

Then, finally, Mr. Sato was face-to-face with the future. An IC card reader was installed at the entrance and a display above it instructed him to touch the reader with his card to make the door open.

When he put his card to the circle a little “ping” rang out and access to the kiosk was granted.

While inside, Mr. Sato noticed that the selection was more sparse than regular train station kiosks. That was probably because this was just a demonstration still in the experimental stages.

All he had to do was pick up the items he wanted and then stand in the black square in front of the exit door. Cameras monitored him picking up a can of coffee and then asked him to confirm the purchase using his IC card on the terminal.

Unless he does this, the door will not open. This renders shoplifting extremely difficult since there is no way out unless you pay or are empty handed.

Mr. Sato confirmed his purchase and walked out of the kiosk without incident. It was actually quite smooth, fast, and easy. However, the purpose of his trip as laid out from the get-go was to see how long it would take to buy a coffee, and because of the line-ups it ended up taking 35 minutes!

This was hardly the future of commerce, but in fairness it was opening day for a revolutionary technology that was sure to attract an unusually large crowd. If these machines where to become commonplace it would probably be a different scene altogether.

Still, it hinted that even though cashiers are removed from the equation, its hardly humanless because you are still at the mercy of other customers. In this case all it would take to gum up the works is three indecisive shoppers.

Overall, Mr. Sato was more impressed with convenience store Lawson’s recently introduced self-service technology in terms of speed and convenience. However, these kiosks did have some advantages like not needing to use your smartphone, no complicated setup, and stronger protections against shoplifting.

Probably the most elegant solution will lie somewhere between these two technologies. It’ll take a little more time, but with the pace these systems are beginning to emerge it looks like we’ll get there before long.

Images: SoraNews24
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