Singapore start-up clinches JR East deal to deploy robot baristas in Japan train stations

Crown Technologies' robot barista, named Ella, is able to make up to 200 cups of coffee an hour.
Crown Technologies' robot barista, named Ella, is able to make up to 200 cups of coffee an hour.PHOTO: CROWN TECHNOLOGIES

SINGAPORE - Local start-up Crown Technologies has secured an investment from a subsidiary of East Japan Railway Company, which will boost the deployment of its robot baristas at selected JR East's train stations in Japan.

Crown Technologies' robot barista, named Ella, is able to make up to 200 cups of coffee an hour. It is designed for unmanned and contactless retail operations in high-volume environments, and is slated to be deployed at several train stations in time for the postponed Tokyo Olympics 2020, now scheduled for July.

JR East's network of 1,657 train stations serve an average of 17 million passengers daily.

The investment - for an undisclosed amount - announced on Monday (Jan 11) brings Crown Technologies' valuation to $33 million.

The smart retail solutions firm's chief executive and founder Keith Tan said the investment by JR East Business Development SEA was "as monumental as it gets", given Japan's reputation for innovation and using artificial intelligence and robotics to solve social issues and achieve economic growth. This is the start-up's first major deal.

"By placing their bet on our technology that we've built in Singapore to serve (this) 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," he said.

Ella was first deployed at Crown Technologies' food and beverage arm Crown Coffee in October. Each robot barista kiosk can operate around the clock, and is powered by an ecosystem which includes an Internet of Things-connected software.

Its set-up is modular, which also allows for its beverage offerings to be customised for the local market in Japan.

In addition, it has digital features such as an interactive screen and a mobile app ordering system, which will also allow JR East to tap various engagement possibilities such as advertisements targeted at the end-user.

The robot barista is monitored 24/7 to ensure that there are no abnormalities which may affect its operations, said Crown Technologies. It also uses predictive analytics to forecast demand, making it easier to plan replenishment and servicing of the kiosk.

Mr Toshio Omiyama, managing director of JR East Business Development SEA, said that Ella ensures safety in the Covid-19 environment as it operates in a sealed chamber and is contactless, and the company plans to conduct test marketing of the product in Japan.

Following JR East unit's investment, Crown Technologies said it is looking to launch its Series A funding round, and deploy an additional 30 robot baristas across Singapore and Japan.

Its target is to roll out 500 robot barista units by 2022, said Mr Tan.