‘Go home’ drone seeks to stop Ja­pan over­time binge

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Adrone that hov­ers over Ja­panese em­ploy­ees and blares mu­sic to force them to go home was un­veiled, as the coun­try tries to re­duce its no­to­ri­ously long work hours.

The “T-Frend” buzzes over those try­ing to work late, blast­ing out the strains of “Auld Lang Syne”, a Scot­tish tune typ­i­cally used in Ja­pan to an­nounce that a store is clos­ing.

“You can´t re­ally work when you think ´it´s com­ing over any time now´ and hear ´Auld Lang Syne´ along with the buzz,” said Nori­hiro Kato, a di­rec­tor at Tai­sei, an of­fice se­cu­rity and clean­ing firm that co-de­vel­oped the sys­tem. The drone is equipped with a cam­era, which stores footage on an SD card. Of­fice scenes can also be mon­i­tored al­most in real time from a re­mote lo­ca­tion.

The ma­chine recog­nises its lo­ca­tion on a build­ing floor with­out GPS. It takes off from its port, makes a sur­veil­lance flight on a pre-set path and then re­turns au­tonomously. Tai­sei plans to start the T-Frend ser­vice in April in col­lab­o­ra­tion with drone sys­tem de­vel­oper Blue In­no­va­tion and tele­coms op­er­a­tor NTT East.

The fee for the ser­vice is yet to be of­fi­cially set but “the tar­get price” is around 500,000 yen ($4,500) a month, said Kato. T-Frend´s de­vel­op­ers are also study­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of giv­ing the drone fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy to tell who is in the of­fice af­ter hours or whether there is an in­truder.

Ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cials at many com­pa­nies push over­timers out of the door but this has iron­i­cally re­sulted in th­ese of­fi­cials work­ing over­time them­selves, to say noth­ing of “caus­ing fric­tion between em­ploy­ees”, the com­pa­nies said in a state­ment.

Firms have there­fore turned to se­cu­rity com­pa­nies for this task, but they have strug­gled to pro­vide enough staff given a na­tion­wide labour short­age in Ja­pan. T-Frend there­fore serves the twin func­tion of re­duc­ing over­time and mak­ing up for this labour short­age, the firms claimed.

Ja­pan´s gov­ern­ment has been try­ing to change a cul­ture in which work­ing long hours is per­ceived as proof of loy­alty and ded­i­ca­tion. Every year in Ja­pan, long work­ing hours are blamed for dozens of deaths due to strokes, heart at­tacks and sui­cides.

In Fe­bru­ary, the coun­try launched the “Pre­mium Fri­day” pro­gramme, urg­ing em­ploy­ees to knock off early on the last Fri­day of the month with the aim of both re­duc­ing work hours and in­vig­o­rat­ing spend­ing.

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