Singapore’s retail tech startup Crown Technologies announced today (Jan 11) that it inked 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 earliest adopters of fully automated coffee machines and ‘smart cafés’ in Singapore.
ELLA, Singapore’s first and Crown Coffee‘s resident and robotic barista since October last year, has been serving up robust Italian Buscaglione Coffee to regulars through fully digitalised touchpoints, including its own coffee app.
Its tech arm Crown Robotics was responsible for conceptualising ELLA while smart retail solutions provider Crown Digital developed the app.
In this new partnership, ELLA will be deployed across 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 F&B and service sectors are particularly at risk as automation replicates and streamline tasks. In fact, the redundancy of lower-skilled jobs are already becoming a reality in Singapore.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only been accelerating this automation. It is becoming widely adopted by businesses across the board, according to an APEC report released in June 2020.
At Crown Coffee, the process of coffee brewing is fully replaced by automation as robotic arm ELLA helps to brew cups of coffee.
ELLA is designed for unmanned and contactless retail operations in high-volume environments such as the Olympics, making it very practical and safe in a post-COVID landscape.
How Will ELLA Be Implemented In Japan?
Each kiosk is capable of producing 200 cups of barista-quality coffee per hour, operating 24/7.
ELLA’s modular setup allows its offerings to be localised for Japan market.
One can expect immersive and innovative digital touchpoints such as an interactive transparent OLED screen and mobile app ordering system with its own payment gateway and e-wallet.
This allows JR East to tap into a myriad of engagement possibilities such as advertisements and notifications targeted directly to the end user.
On the backend, computer vision powered by artificial intelligence is monitoring the kiosk 24/7 for any abnormalities that may affect ELLA’s operations.
Meanwhile, a fulfillment module, powered by its own mobile app, uses predictive analytics to forecast demand and digitise the supply chain management.
This will allow JR East to support the replenishment and servicing of the kiosk with only a lean fulfilment team with the power of big data.
A Strategic Investment
Tokyo Olympics 2020, which was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, is expected to be held from July to August 2021.
The investment will accelerate the rollout of ELLA across East Japan Railway’s network of 1,657 train stations that serve an average of 17 million passengers daily, with completion slated to meet the increased demands of the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
Moreover, revenue in Japan’s coffee segment is projected to reach US$35.452 million in 2021. The market is also expected to grow annually by 5.2 per cent.
In Japan, the local Starbucks releases culturally relevant limited-time beverages and snacks tailored to Japanese tastes and interests. Big chains like Exclesior Cafe, Doutor and Tully’s are also known for releasing appealing new line-ups on a regular basis.
The art of coffee filtering has found its place in Japanese social scene and yielded a variety of roasting strategies, careful bean selection, and brewing technologies.
Latte art connoisseurs and independent coffee shops are also common, particularly in more unique shopping areas like Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa.
In fact, Japan ranks as the fifth biggest coffee consumer today.
This is as monumental as it gets 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 issues and achieve economic growth.– Keith Tan, founder and CEO of Crown Technologies
According to a media statement, Crown Technologies’ founder and CEO Keith Tan first met JETRO (Japan External Trade Organisation) when he was pitching at a tech event in Tokyo.
He was later invited by JETRO Singapore to present Crown Technologies’ robotic barista solution, and was subsequently introduced to JR East.
ELLA complements JR East’s Mid-to-Long-term Vision for Technological Innovation1 – a 20-year plan that harnesses the advances in IoT, big data and AI to address Japan’s labour shortage due to decrease in working-age population.
Crown Technologies also revealed that it will be launching its Series A round shortly, as well as the deployment 30 additional commercial units of ELLA across Singapore.
Featured Image Credit: Crown Technologies / Shinjuku Station