Japanese Snack and Drink Vending Machines

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					The Japanese have long been recognized for their advances in the world of technology.
At times they're applauded; at others, ridiculed, and they never stay out of the
spotlight for too long. For example, in October news hit the web of a startlingly
lifelike robotic nurse, the Actroid-F, made by Japanese company Kokoro, that can
speak and make appropriate facial expressions. (This comes just about a year after
news of a robotic nurse made to look like a giant teddy bear, called Riba, which can
lift elderly patients out of bed and wheelchairs.)

One of the bits of technology Japan is most known for is its vending machines. The
country has the highest number of vending machines per capita (as of summer of 2009
it averaged 23 per person, though that figure's most likely increased), and the products
one can buy from them run an impressive gamut. Japanese vending machines tend to
be somewhat... unorthodox, and are by no means restricted to just snacks and drinks.
Some of the other surprising products people can get from Japanese vending machines
are eggs, bowls of hot Ramen, live lobsters, name cards, flight insurance,
prophylactics, fresh Hello Kitty! popcorn, underwear, kerosene, toilet paper, flowers,
eggs, pornography, rhinoceros beetles, neckties, batteries, sneakers and dry ice. They
also have large robot-shaped Coke machines that actually walk around, as well as
drink vending machines with photos of a surly looking Tommy Lee Jones endorsing
the products.

The latest craze is drink vending machines that use facial recognition technology to
make recommendations to customers. When the machine senses someone
approaching, a large touch-screen panel takes in and compiles data about them
(gender, age) along with information about the weather, date and time to make its

A company spokesperson said, "If the customer is a man, the machine is likely to
recommend a canned coffee drink, since men tend to prefer these. If the customer is in
their 50s, though, that recommendation is likely to be green tea."

These recommendations come from extensive market research, research that also says
women in their 20s are more likely to be recommended something sweeter than coffee
or green tea.

One machine was already installed in a Tokyo train station in August and five more
are slated to hit the public shortly. According to a representative of the company that
designed them, JR East Water Business Co., sales for beverages from these machines
are already triple the sales of regular drink vending machines. They plan to roll out
about 500 more over the next couple of years.

The question now is, how long will it be before facial-recognition snack vending
machines start cropping up in Japan? And how long after that will it take a chubby
Japanese kid to sue JR East for hurting his feelings when their machines offer him a
bag of carrot sticks instead of the pack of Pocky he wanted?