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TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - For you sir, a canned coffee. And for madam, perhaps a nice cold tea.
A new Japanese canned drink vending machine uses facial recognition technology to "recommend" drinks based on the customer's age and gender -- and sales have tripled over those from regular vending machines as a result.
The machines, developed by JR East Water Business Co, a subsidiary of railway firm JR East Co, use large touch-panel screens with sensors that allow the machine to determine the characteristics of an approaching customer.
"Recommended" labels will then appear on specific drink products. Suggested products may also change depending on the temperature and time of day.
"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," a company spokeswoman said.
A woman in her 20s will be recommended a tea drink or slightly sweeter product, since market research has shown that they prefer these.
"We thought it would make it a lot more fun for the customers to have this kind of interaction with our machines, that it would improve the whole buying experience," she added.
The company has so far tested one machine at one Tokyo train station but plans to add five machines on Tuesday at central Tokyo Station, with the network to be expanded to other major Tokyo stations and nearby suburban areas by early in 2011.
Some 500 of the machines should be available in Tokyo and surrounding areas by March 2012.
Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Alex Richardson