S'pore firm's robot baristas to serve up coffee in Japan

Crown Technologies' robots to be deployed at selected JR East train stations in time for Olympics

Crown Technologies' robot barista can make up to 200 cups of coffee an hour. It is monitored 24/7 to ensure there are no abnormalities, and uses predictive analytics to forecast demand, making it easier to plan replenishments and servicing of the kio
Crown Technologies' robot barista can make up to 200 cups of coffee an hour. It is monitored 24/7 to ensure there are no abnormalities, and uses predictive analytics to forecast demand, making it easier to plan replenishments and servicing of the kiosk.PHOTO: CROWN TECHNOLOGIES

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 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 serves an average of 17 million passengers daily.

The investment - for an undisclosed amount - was announced yesterday and 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 for 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 bets 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 last October.

Each robot barista kiosk can operate around the clock, and is powered by an ecosystem that 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 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 that may affect its operations, said Crown Technologies. It also uses predictive analytics to forecast demand, making it easier to plan replenishments and servicing of the kiosk.

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

Following the 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 next year, said Mr Tan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2021, with the headline 'S'pore firm's robot baristas to serve up coffee in Japan'. Print Edition | Subscribe