The Sapporo Beer Machine – When Innovation Goes Right

I had the pleasure of enjoying several automatically vended Sapporo Beers from an amazing Sapporo Beer Machine (my name for it) during a five hour layover in Toyko’s Narita airport on May 4th 2009. I found this little jewel of beer serving luxury in the Priority Lounge while I was flying Northwest Airlines on my way to Bangkok, Thailand. This thing puts the Heineken Mini-Keg Dispenser to shame.

Here’s how it works. You take a freezing cold glass out of the tall glass freezer immediately beside the beer dispenser and you place it upright at the back of a little flat tray. Much like a gas station hot chocolate dispenser or the automatic soft drink dispensers behind the counter at your local fast food joint this machine would, upon the push of a button, fill a frosty glass with Sapporo right to the 90% mark every time. First the tray would lean backwards to create the perfect angle for the addition of a stream of cold beer with minimum froth. Then the beer flows and stops perfectly just before the top. Next the glass is raised back to level again. Then a sneaky little second nozzle that you didn’t even notice comes out and adds the perfect amount of head to the top of the beer. Next you drink the glass to empty and return to the beer robot. Repeat the process until you forgot that you have five hours to waste in an airport lounge.

Although I was able to remember to post a note about the dispenser to Twitter while in the lounge I forget to shoot a video of it with my digital camera. But, someone didn’t forget so you can check out the machine in action here: I’m probably not Googling properly but I cannot find any other references to this exact machine online. I’d love to buy one or at least figure out how much it costs (so I can add it to my Christmas wish list). If you can read the Japanese label on the front of the machine from the video please post a comment and let me know if it says anything that would aid my search. Or send me a link to more information about this machine.

Eco Cycle Bicycle Storage System in Tokyo

My business partner at iContact Ryan sent me the neatest thing in an email tonight. It’s called the Eco Cycle. it is an underground bicycle storage solution currently being used in Tokyo, Japan. It reminds me of those cart dispensers in airports where you can rent a cart to help you move your heavy luggage to and from baggage claim. But this is even better. This system not only accepts your own bike as input but it stores it neatly out of sight underground in a huge stacked cylinder. The system appears to be a whole lot less space efficient than the common side-by-side bicycle rack you can find on any street in a bicycle friendly city but it has several key advantages.

The first advantage is security. Bicycles can be expensive and at the end of the day finding your bike missing is not only a loss of money but also a loss of a ride home that may cost you dearly in a cab or on foot.

The Eco Cycle system is also much more visually appealing as it has a similar visual footprint as an ATM.

I would bet that the system also provides a benefit to the long term maintenance costs of a bicycle by keeping it stored in a dry environment out of the elements and the wear and tear and risk of frequent passers by.

Finally I think the advantage of using underground space instead of above ground space is exceptional. In busy cities where a high percentage of commuters move around via bicycle the space to park those bicycles along a sidewalk is a hindrance to pedestrians who use the sidewalk space to walk.

Considering the moderate failure rate of other automated systems we use every day like parking payment systems and drink vending machines I wonder what you would do if this machine ate your bike. Hopefully there is someone on site with a ladder and access to a hatch in the floor.

The Eco Cycle is a fantastic innovation and I love how it resolves an interesting problem in urban planning with a very creative solution. Has anyone seen one of these in person? It almost seems too good to be true.