Many of us don't need any extra incentive to clock off at the end of the work day, but in Japan the intense business culture means many office workers put in too much overtime. Now, a couple of companies have unveiled the kind of quirky solution that could only come out of Japan: a drone that flies around the office at knock off time, blasting music to annoy staff into leaving.
It's normal for people to burn the midnight oil for work every once in a while, but in Japan the overtime culture has become a serious issue. According to a recent study, staff at almost 25 percent of Japanese companies will punch in over 80 hours of overtime a month. The mental and physical toll that takes on people's bodies leads to sudden death at a young age with alarming regularity, to the point where the word karōshi – literally "overwork death" – was coined to describe it.
To help combat the epidemic, the building company Taisei and drone manufacturer Blue Innovations have teamed up to develop T-FREND, a drone designed to patrol office buildings and encourage workers out the door at closing time.
The autonomous drone can apparently navigate its indoor environment without the use of GPS. Users set its travel times and routes beforehand, and T-FREND will roam the halls on schedule, blasting a traditional Japanese song called Hotaru no Hikari. Set to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, this song is often played at the end of school days or as stores are closing. The idea, it seems, is to entice people to leave through a combination of habit and hinderance.
T-FREND is designed not only to combat karōshi, but to keep watch for intruders overnight. Equipped with a camera and a cloud storage link, the drone shoots video of any intruders or late workers and stores it on an SD card or uploads it to a closed cloud service. Conducting several patrols a night, T-FREND could also help ease the pressure on human security personnel, who may themselves be at risk of excessive overtime.
The companies plan to launch the drone and service in April 2018, for a reported monthly fee of ¥500,000 (about US$4,400). Let's hope companies don't force their employees to put in more overtime in order to foot that bill.