Tech Biz

High-Tech Tokyo Taxis Will Sound an Alarm for Left-Behind Luggage

A camera system will alert Tokyo’s taxi passengers about forgotten items before they walk away.

J.T. Quigley

Many busy urbanites have felt the same sense of panic and dread – after digging into a pocket, suddenly realizing that a wallet or cell phone was left on the seat, just as a recently departed taxi’s red tail lights disappear into the distant hustle and bustle. It’s an awful feeling that one Japanese taxi company is committed to eliminating.

Kokusai Motorcars Company, based in Tokyo, plans to equip all of its taxis with a high-tech camera system that can detect forgotten luggage and personal items. Kokusai Motorcars’ fleet of 3,100 cabs will begin receiving the upgrade next spring.

“The system, co-developed with technology consultants Ideacross, uses four small cameras – two under the front seats, one on the ceiling, and one in the trunk – to record images of the back seat before and after a passenger enters the taxi. If a passenger leaves the car forgetting an item that wasn’t there before getting in, the system sounds an alarm,” said The Wall Street Journal.

The advanced system will cost a reasonable 50,000 yen ($500) per car. Citing privacy concerns, Kokusai Motorcars has also assured the public that the cameras will not take clear pictures of a passenger’s face. Potential riders will also be notified via signs on the taxi’s exterior that the camera system is in operation.

In Tokyo, most surface and subway trains cease operation around midnight. Taxis are often the only way home for late-night office stragglers and intoxicated party animals – a demographic that is more likely to be forgetful than typical daytime passengers.

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“Besides keeping passengers at ease, equipping Kokusai Motorcars’ taxis will also save cab drivers from always asking their passengers if they have forgotten anything. The company will also be spared from passengers calling their office inquiring for left-behind items,” reported The Japan Daily Press. “According to Kokusai Motorcars, about 60 percent of the calls they received about lost items are for mobile phones. The other items left in its taxis include small items like wallets, and big ones like watermelons. They’ve also recovered guns and drugs.”

Tokyo’s taxi drivers reported 210,000 missing items to police last year. Although Japan is one of the few countries where lost items are often recovered, tracking down the exact taxi that a forgotten wallet or cellphone was left in can be tricky for Japanese and non-Japanese alike – there are 384 taxi companies in Tokyo alone.