7-Eleven Stores in Japan Are Getting Touch-Free Floating Holographic Self-Checkouts

The war on germs is about to score a major victory in Japan.

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As convenient as self-checkout machines can be for quickly getting out of a store, they’re also a convenient way to expose yourself to a touchscreen that thousands of others have used. To make the machines more sanitary, some 7-Eleven stores in Japan will be installing floating holographic displays that work without any physical contact.

Even with the immense popularity of online shopping, the supply chain issues that have arisen as a result of the ongoing pandemic have proven that brick-and-mortar shopping experiences won’t be going away anytime soon. They offer many advantages to buying stuff online, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways physical stores can be improved. Amazon’s cashless convenience and grocery stores take the cashier and the use of money completely out of the equation and as a result, seem like a better approach to safer shopping during a pandemic.

Upgrading a store so that shoppers can simply walk out the door with their wares requires expensive and complicated upgrades, but 7-Eleven in Japan is introducing a more affordable way to make in-person shopping safer.

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It’s rare to find a Slurpee machine at a Japanese 7-Eleven, but you will find a wider selection of household wares and prepared meals than what American versions of the convenience store chain are offering. As a result, 7-Eleven stores are very popular in Japan, with about 30,000 of them operating across the country (there are less than 10,000 of them in the United States) so it makes sense for a chain that size to start trialing the self-checkout of the future.

Unlike Amazon’s stores where shoppers can simply leave with bags of carts full of goods, the upgraded 7-Eleven stores still require shoppers to stop and individually scan their items before paying. What’s different is the lack of traditional LCD touchscreens which have been instead replaced by a system developed by Toshiba called Digi POS that creates the illusion of a touchscreen interface simply hanging in the air in front of a shopper, while those behind them in line don’t see anything at all.

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Image: Toshiba

Privacy isn’t the main advantage of the Digi POS. Through the use of hidden sensors, the system can detect the presence and movements of fingers, so a shopper can press buttons and interact with the virtual touchscreen without actually having to physically touch anything. So not only is there nothing to clean and sanitize afterward, but there’s also much less risk of the hardware being damaged or suffering from physical wear and tear over time.

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The holographic self-checkouts will be trialed at six different 7-Eleven stores in Tokyo starting tomorrow and will allow most in-store items to be purchased autonomously. Payments are handled either by touchless payment cards or by scanning the screen of a mobile device. Other products, such as alcohol, cigarettes, and even paying bills, are excluded from the new checkouts and will still require a physical cashier to complete purchases.