Kirin Beverage and Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department have teamed up to develop “overwatch vending machines.” These machines use tiny cameras in their display bottles to shoot video at eye level, recording footage that can be used to maintain security in the surrounding area. Asahi Beverages is also testing machines that can communicate with smart tags carried by children, keeping track of them on their way to or from school.

Behind the Display Bottle Sits a Tiny Camera

Vending machines are being put to work to help keep streets safer for children and the elderly.

At a glance, it appears to be nothing more than a run-of-the-mill vending machine, but a closer look reveals that one of the display bottles in this vending machine has a hole punched in it.

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This hole is not a defect, but rather the result of a collaboration between Kirin Beverage and officers at the Nishiarai Police Station in Adachi, Tokyo. Behind the hole lies a tiny camera that keeps watch over the street.

While security cameras are typically installed high up to get a bird’s eye view, these cameras differ in that they are positioned at human eye level, giving them a wide-angle view of the area in front of the machine. Able to shoot footage of more than just people looking to purchase a soft drink, the cameras are able to capture the faces and even the contents of a person’s hand, a function that would prove useful if a crime were perpetrated nearby and aiding police in search of criminals or missing children.

Strategically Positioned to Protect Children

Fukuyama Takao, chief at the Nishiarai Police Station, spoke with FNN about the placement of the machines: “I think a huge point in their favor is that vending machines aren’t intimidating. When it comes to protecting our children, I think having cameras in these kinds of locations is an excellent idea.”

Test footage from the vending machine camera shows its clear views of people’s faces and the items they carry.

Kirin Beverage, which has come under fire for placing an excessive number of vending machines on Japan’s streets, believes that adding crime prevention functionality could help ease the way to continued placement of machines. Arai Hiroaki of Kirin Beverage Value Vendor told FNN, “Developing the technology to the level that satisfied police requirements was the most difficult part of the project. I believe that it is part of the Kirin Group’s mission to do what we can to contribute to combatting social woes.”

Asahi Beverages has taken a different approach to the concept of the “overwatch vending machine,” instead opting to install devices that receive data from smart tags carried by children who pass by. If a child goes missing, this data can be used to track his or her whereabouts. The company is currently testing prototypes in Sumida, Tokyo, to see whether this data can also be sent to the smartphones of parents keeping tabs on their child.

Asahi Beverages’ prototype machine reads data from smart tags to register when children pass by.

Map, Weather, and Traffic Information, Too

Management consultant Matsue Hideo notes: “It’s said there are currently 2.5 million vending machines in Japan nationwide. That this number is so high is linked to the general lack of crime our country, but flipping this notion on its head, I believe that these machines should also work to help improve public safety. Once vending machines gain the capability to transmit and receive data, they can help to provide not just overwatch services but also to distribute map, weather, and traffic information, further contributing to the quality of life in the area where they are installed.”


(Originally broadcast in Japanese on FNN’s Prime News Alpha on July 3, 2018. )

Click here to view this story in Japanese.