The sushi is revolving, and the AI is watching.

Kaitenzushi restaurants (as revolving or conveyor belt sushi restaurants are called in Japanese) are facing a crisis in Japan right now. Over the last few weeks, a number of disgusting videos have surfaced online, showing giggling pranksters treating utensils and other items in unsanitary ways, then leaving them for the next unsuspecting customers to use.

The entire revolving sushi industry is built on the foundation of faith that the restaurants are safe to eat at, and Japan’s major kaitenzushi chains have been scrambling to try to restore public trust. In the latest such effort, revolving sushi chain Kura Sushi is turning to the power of AI.

Putting extra effort into cleanliness isn’t entirely new for Kura Sushi. Since 2011, it’s been placing covers over its sushi plates that make their way around the restaurant, which isn’t a widespread policy among kaitenzeushi chains in Japan. In these times of heightened concern, though, Kura wants to go one step further by using networks of in-restaurant AI cameras to catch pranksters before the items they tamper with go in anyone else’s mouth.

The cameras themselves have actually been in place for a while. As of 2021, all Kura Sushi branches in Japan are equipped with cameras along the conveyor apparatus that can automatically track how many plates a customer takes and calculate the bill at the end of their meal. For the anti-prankster initiative, the camera networks have been upgraded with AI capabilities that can spot suspicious behavior, such as someone taking a plate of sushi from the conveyor and then putting it back on, perhaps after doing something very gross to the fish or rice.

Once such behavior is registered by the AI, it sends an alert to one of Kura Sushi’s regional operations centers, where a team confirms what happened in the recorded video and contacts the branch where the incident took place so that staff can remove the item from circulation, ask the prankster to explain themselves, and, if necessary, summon the police.

▼ A video demonstration of the system in action

“It would have been nice if we didn’t need to rely on this sort of system,” said a Kura Sushi spokesperson, “but it’s become necessary because of the inconsiderate actions of a small number of people. Diners want to be able to eat while feeling secure [about the sanitary conditions of the restaurant].”

The AI camera system went into operation on March 2.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun via Hachima Kiko, PR Wire
Images: PR Wire
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