Japan, already home to some of the world’s most conscientious cabbies, wants to put an end to all that with a technological fix.
Tokyo-based taxi Kokusai Motorcars Co. plans to equip its vehicles with a camera system that automatically detects when items are left behind. 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.
Kokusai Motorcars will start installing the system in all 3,100 of its taxis next spring at an estimated cost of about ¥50,000 ($500) per car. It hopes to sell the system to other taxi companies. To allay privacy concerns, the system won’t capture clear images of faces and the company will post signs inside cars alerting passengers of the cameras.
While no one ever wants to lose something in a taxi, Japan is the place to do it if you must. If a passenger keeps the fare receipt from a ride, there is a number to call that will alert the driver that you left something behind. This writer had a cabbie refuse a tip after he drove an hour to return a mobile phone at 1:00 a.m. – a time when trains have stopped running and taxi drivers often earn their biggest hauls. And this is not uncommon for Japan’s taxis, which are usually spotless and technologically advanced.
But cabbies can’t drive around returning lost items forever, and for the passenger, the loss of a taxi receipt can mean a frustrating series of calls to taxi associations, police, and cab companies (there are 384 in Tokyo alone).
Tokyo drivers reported to police 210,000 objects left behind in their cars last year.
Kokusai Motorcars said it has recovered a vast range of items from its cars over the years, including wallets, watermelons, drugs, and even a gun. These days, the company says mobile phones account for about 60% of objects left behind, leading to distressed calls from customers worried about losing address books–and possibly, revealing call logs.
The detection system may reduce the pressure on Kokusai Motorcars’s drivers, who practice asking customers to check they haven’t forgotten anything at the precise moment. Repeated practice is necessary to get the timing right. The reminder needs to come at the exact moment a passenger has one foot out the door, said Kokusai Motorcars Executive Officer Shinji Tanaka.
“One moment too early and customers get distracted and drop their wallet or mobile phone,” he said. “One moment too late, and they’re gone.”