Yet for some reason the machines always produce a beverage almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea
November 15, 2010 3:10 PM   Subscribe

Japan is home to a lot of vending machines, some estimations placing one machine for every 23 people, and they're getting "smarter." In 2008, some cigarette vending machines had a digital camera with equipment to judge the age of the cigarette buyer, though relatively small magazine pictures could fool most of these new machines. In the last few months, JR East Water Business Co, a subsidiary of train operator East Japan Railway, has started to roll out high-tech vending machines that recommend a drink based on the users age and gender, using facial recognition technology and drink-preference data.

Thanks to this new show of technology, these new vending machines are reporting greatly increased sales. But according to a comment on Slashdot, this may be due to local media attention and the large interactive screens.

Bonus facial recognition vending machine: face- (plus age- and gender-) recognizing machine gives free ice cream for smiles, plus you can share your ice-cream winning smile on Facebook directly through the vending machine (promo video).
posted by filthy light thief (33 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
flt, you get 10 bonus points for your post title.
posted by hippybear at 3:24 PM on November 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

I can certainly see the value of facial recognition software being incorporated into a vending machine, in much the same way I like it when I walk into a restaurant and the person at the counter just nods and says "The usual?" I could imagine how nice it would be to walk up the machine and have it know that I'm going to order a chocolate milk and have the little robot arm already sitting next to it waiting for me to confirm.

I mean, it would only save a few seconds, but it'd be a sort of neat thing.

Plus, then I would be justified in having a conversation with the machine; asking about its day, how its wife is, etc.

"When a customer stand in front of the next-generation drink machines, it will take a second to process your image. “Recommended” labels will then appear on specific drink products on its touch-screen pad, and then says “Thank you” to some or “I love you” to others."

Great, now I get to feel bad if the machine just thanks me and love the person in front of me. Just what I needed.

Actually, I'm torn here; the "I love you" could be Idiocracy "Welcome to Costco, I love you" sad, or Wall-E sweet. It could really go either way.
posted by quin at 3:26 PM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I want to go to Japan just to see if my age, gender, and facial characteristics will result in the martini I would like, extra dry, stirred, with a twist of lemon.
posted by beelzbubba at 3:28 PM on November 15, 2010

Vending machines are one of the things I love about living here. There's usually one just around the corner from where ever you might happen to be. I've gotten completely used to them, but when my friends came over for my wedding, they were mildly surprised to see vending machines that dispensed both hot and cold drinks. (At every moment of mild surprise they displayed, I belted out "Welcome to the FUTURE" in my best Tom Servo voice)

On the other hand, people have been talking for years (old link is old) about the CO2 impact of these machines. They're everywhere, they're always on (except the damn beer vending machines, which actually close at 11), and always plugged in.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:31 PM on November 15, 2010

The vending machines will soon incorporate backscatter and millimeter x-ray technology to determine your level of arousal prior to ordering your drink.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 3:48 PM on November 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

extra dry, stirred, with a twist of lemon.

Though it isn't as dry, consider the vesper.

The second one tastes like water, the third tastes like ambrosia.

A well calibrated machine would serve me an Oban neat.
posted by poe at 4:03 PM on November 15, 2010

But is there a vending machine where one can buy a drunk, unconscious salaryman?

Nope, because you can pick one up for free in the subway.
posted by bwg at 4:15 PM on November 15, 2010

The odd thing about the ubiquitous vending machines is the lack of snack food machines. You see drink machines everywhere, cigarette machines almost everywhere, beer and alcohol vending machines not so much (and in Tokyo, almost zero). But snacks--candy bars and chips and the like--are really rare. A few stations have them on the platform, and that's just in the last couple of years. I have a feeling the conbini (convenience store) companies have used their considerable wealth and power to ensure that snack machines are few and far between, so that customers will still keep coming into the stores.
posted by zardoz at 4:17 PM on November 15, 2010

Good I can't wait to freak these things out.
posted by gomichild at 4:33 PM on November 15, 2010

I was impressed—and a little frightened—when I saw a new soda vending machine here in the U.S. actually nudge a stuck soda loose earlier this year. And that machine didn't even have the, er, mental capacity that these new Japanese machines have. God knows what they'll have them doing next...
posted by limeonaire at 4:37 PM on November 15, 2010

This reminds me of an article I read, maybe... 10 years ago? I can't even remember where - PC Magazine, or Pop Sci, or one of those kinds of things. The article was about a vending machine that could change its prices based on the observed temperature, which led to a good half of the article positing a hypothetical wherein the consumer attempts to haggle with the vending machine.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:53 PM on November 15, 2010

Went to Japan for a while recently. The drink vending machines everywhere were actually really nice in the heat of August.

Now ... to combine the vending machines of Tokyo with the free public toilets of Paris to create a city that truly caters to the needs of the thirsty traveler ...
posted by kyrademon at 4:56 PM on November 15, 2010

Oh man, I still remember absolute glee at finding the machine that sold the king-size can of Lemon Aquarius for 110 yen. I was willing to take a 20-minute detour just to get some of that on a hot day.

It's like a sport...find your favorite local vending machines.

With that said, facial recognition sounds like something that would take a bit more time than insert coins + push button. :-(
posted by circular at 4:59 PM on November 15, 2010

The odd thing about the ubiquitous vending machines is the lack of snack food machines.

The even odder thing yet about the ubiquitous vending machines is that there is also the ubiquitous 24-hour convenience stores selling the same things and more within a 2-minute walk of any point in the entire country. My place had a Lawson's, 7-11, Circle K, and Family Mart all within a stone's throw, and I wasn't even in a particularly high-density area.

Crap, now I'm craving convenience store oden...
posted by Hoopo at 5:02 PM on November 15, 2010

and they're getting "smarter"

This will be just around the corner. Cool or scary?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:04 PM on November 15, 2010

I'd be happy if they would just develop a vending machine that would give me my damn Snickers bar and not let it hang there on the coil 1/2 the time.
posted by octothorpe at 5:22 PM on November 15, 2010

Where this is going
posted by JHarris at 5:31 PM on November 15, 2010

Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.
posted by schmod at 5:32 PM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

My favorite Japanese vending machine drink is Bikkle. It's like pudding drink. I'm sure you can get it in stores, but for some reason I only got it from vending machines.

Also, in the JAL first class lounge in Narita (which I entered despite not being a first class passenger) they had an awesome beer vending machine. You put the glass in, then it tilted the glass to fill it without getting foamy, then tilted back so the glass was upright and sprayed some head on the top.
posted by snofoam at 5:38 PM on November 15, 2010

The odd thing about the ubiquitous vending machines is the lack of snack food machines.

They're starting to show up lately on some train platforms, since JR has been shutting down (unfortunately) some of their little kiosks, which used to be staffed by an actual human being, and replacing them with machines. The selection is poor, though. Kiosks are so much better. the JAL first class lounge in Narita (which I entered despite not being a first class passenger) they had an awesome beer vending machine.

Yeah, those are fun! I've seen one in use in an Osaka drinking joint, but never here in Tokyo.

Here's my Flickr set of Japanese vending machines. A few of them were used in this book!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:51 PM on November 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, and zardoz, now that I just read your comment properly, I see that you'd already mentioned that there are indeed some snack vending machines around.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:54 PM on November 15, 2010

Vending machines are definitely nice -- but they are literally everywhere. There are 5.5 million across Japan, of which 2.65 million dispense drinks. I've seen them just outside graveyards, along deserted mountain roads, and inside temple grounds. And as Ghidorah mentions, they generally shine their fluorescent beacons 24 hours a day. Ironically, vending machines are sometimes the only light source in darkened residential areas, especially in the countryside, so they act as a kind of crime deterrent.

One interesting thing about vending machines (or 自動販売機 jidouhanbaiki, or 自販機 jihanki for short) is that many are designed to release drinks for free in the case of a major earthquake or other natural disaster (by remote command). Fortunately I have yet to try that feature out.
posted by armage at 6:01 PM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Can any of them say "Come with me if you want to live" in Japanese?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:06 PM on November 15, 2010

Kiosks are so much better.

Yeah, I'm a fan of the railway platform KIOSKs (and their numerous private railway counterparts) as well. It's amazing how much they can cram into that few square meters of platform space.

Somewhat related, I'm also a huge fan of the tachigui soba stands that are slowly disappearing from railway platforms. Although they will never be mistaken for gourmet food, spending 250-300 yen for a bowl of piping hot soba really hits the spot. Indeed, when you're traveling on the slow trains out in the middle of nowhere in the winter months, the smell of the dashi and the steam from the tempura fryer are a welcome sight.

Of course, Japan has vending machines for this, too.
posted by armage at 6:08 PM on November 15, 2010

Now that I think about it, though, I'm remembering what I told a coworker a few days ago—what I really want from my local vending machines right about now, far from inbuilt intelligence, is the ability to pay by credit card. I saw some with that capability at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, but they have yet to make an appearance on the first floor of ye olde Midwestern office building.
posted by limeonaire at 6:56 PM on November 15, 2010

what I really want from my local vending machines right about now, far from inbuilt intelligence, is the ability to pay by credit card.

These days you can buy things from the vending machines in and around train stations (and also at convenience stores, etc) with the Suica or Pasmo card, which is very convenient. No fumbling for change!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:52 PM on November 15, 2010

''Back in the 1960's and '70's these vending machines sold condoms, gum or cigarettes, but have been refurbished to sell the artwork....''
posted by clavdivs at 8:10 PM on November 15, 2010

Can any of them say "Come with me if you want to live" in Japanese?

If Skynet had evolved from Japan's vending machine network Terminator would have been a movie about a robot sent back in time to find the mother of the man who invented royal milk tea, and basically just congratulate her.

Then Teaminator 2 would have been about his teenage years in a foster home, after a childhood spent drifting around the UK crashing with sketchy freehold tea farmers got him picked up by child services and his mother thrown into an institution. A rogue robot comes back from the future determined to put an end to this "tea steeped in milk" nonsense (everyone knows you take tea black), but then a good robot arrives to back up John on the milk thing and also suggest maybe adding lemon. The two robots agree to disagree and shake hands.
posted by No-sword at 8:42 PM on November 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

The vending machine told me to have a Four Loko :(
posted by banishedimmortal at 1:09 AM on November 16, 2010

My best friend just came back from visiting family in Japan. Among the bags of salt candy, cheese-flavored Kit Kat and spice shakers from Coco-Ichiban was perhaps the strangest item of all. A Red Bull-sized can of corn potage soup, purchased from a vending machine.
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:55 AM on November 16, 2010

needs more live crab
posted by slogger at 5:37 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

The amount of vending machines in Japan got me in trouble when I was there. I just could not resist plunking in a few coins and getting a drink almost every time I was near one. I ended up drinking so many cans of Suntory Boss coffee, I had huge caffeine headaches when I returned stateside.

Japanese vending machine withdrawals.
posted by Widepath at 9:26 AM on November 16, 2010

For me, the automatic beer pouring machine is like an Indiana Jones-esque game of skill. As long as I've lived here, I've never understood the fascination with foam on beer. It's wasted space in the glass! When confronted with the auto-pour, my goal is always to snag the glass out before the foam gets dumped on top.

As for searching out the vending machine, I can tell you exactly which machines near my house have the 500ml Pepsi cans for 100 yen, and which have Dr. Pepper.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:08 PM on November 16, 2010

« Older Uncertain Futures   |   Magazine 60 Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments