S’pore Startup’s Robot Barista To Serve Coffee At JR East Stations

Singapore-based retail tech start-up Crown Technologies announced today (January 11) that it has signed its first major cross-border deal with JR East Business Development SEA Pte. Ltd, a subsidiary of East Japan Railway Company.

This brings the company to an initial valuation of S $ 33 million.

The Crown brand is one of the early adopters of fully automated coffee machines and “smart cafes” in Singapore.

ELLA, Singapore’s first resident and robotic barista and Crown Coffee since October last year, serves robust Italian Buscaglione coffee to regulars via fully digital touchpoints, including its own coffee app.

Its tech arm Crown Robotics was responsible for conceptualizing ELLA while smart retail solutions provider Crown Digital developed the app.

As part of this new partnership, ELLA will be rolled out at stations of Japan’s largest passenger train line operator in time for this year’s Tokyo Olympics.

COVID-19 Accelerated Automation

As we already know, even baristas are being replaced by robots.

The catering and service industries are particularly at risk as automation reproduces and streamlines tasks. In fact, layoffs from low-skilled jobs are already becoming a reality in Singapore.

Barista robot coffee wreath
Image Credit: Crown Technologies

The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated this automation. It is increasingly being adopted by businesses across the board, according to an APEC report released in June 2020.

At Crown Coffee, the coffee brewing process is completely replaced by automation as the ELLA robotic arm helps brew cups of coffee.

ELLA is designed for unmanned, contactless retail operations in high volume environments such as the Olympics, making it very convenient and secure in a post-COVID landscape.

How will ELLA be implemented in Japan?

Each kiosk is capable of producing 200 cups of barista-grade coffee per hour, operating 24/7.

ELLA’s modular configuration allows its offerings to be localized for the Japanese market.

One can expect immersive and innovative digital touchpoints such as an interactive transparent OLED display and a mobile application ordering system with its own payment gateway and electronic wallet.

This allows JR East to exploit a myriad of engagement possibilities such as advertisements and notifications targeted directly at the end user.

crown digital control kiosk
Image Credit: Crown Technologies

On the backend, computer vision powered by artificial intelligence monitors the kiosk 24/7 for any anomalies that could affect ELLA’s operations.

Meanwhile, an execution module, powered by its own mobile app, uses predictive analytics to forecast demand and digitize supply chain management.

This will allow JR East to take over the replenishment and maintenance of the kiosk with only a lean management team with the power of Big Data.

A strategic investment

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, are expected to be held from July to August 2021.

This investment will accelerate the deployment of ELLA in East Japan Railway’s network of 1,657 stations that serve an average of 17 million passengers per day, with completion expected to meet increased demand for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

In addition, the revenue of the coffee segment in Japan is expected to reach US $ 35.452 million in 2021. The market is also expected to grow 5.2% annually.

ella robotic barista singapore
Image Credit: Crown Technologies

In Japan, the local Starbucks offers limited-time drinks and snacks that are culturally appropriate to Japanese tastes and interests. Big chains like Exclesior Cafe, Doutor and Tully’s are also known to regularly release attractive new ranges.

The art of coffee filtering has found its way into the Japanese social scene and has given rise to a variety of roasting strategies, careful selection of beans and brewing technologies.

Latte art connoisseurs and independent cafes are also common, especially in more unique shopping areas like Shimokitazawa in Tokyo.

In fact, Japan is now the fifth largest consumer of coffee.

Keith Tan / Image Credit: Crown Technologies

It’s as monumental as it sounds for our first investment. Japan has long been known to embrace innovation and be at the forefront of using AI and robotics to solve social problems and achieve economic growth.

– Keith Tan, Founder and CEO of Crown Technologies

According to a press release, Crown Technologies founder and CEO Keith Tan first met JETRO (Japan Foreign Trade Organization) while attending a tech event in Tokyo.

He was then invited by JETRO Singapore to present Crown Technologies’ robotic barista solution, and was then presented to JR East.

ELLA complements JR East’s medium and long-term vision for technological innovation1 – a 20-year plan that harnesses advancements in IoT, big data and AI to tackle the workforce shortage work in Japan due to the shrinking working-age population.

Crown Technologies also revealed that it will soon launch its Series A, as well as the deployment of 30 additional ELLA business units across Singapore.

Featured Image Credit: Crown Technologies / Shinjuku Station

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Jothi Venkat

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