Light goes on, mind gets blown

Japan isn’t as futuristic as it’s cracked up to be.  Tokyo is easily the Blade-Runner-iest place around, but it’s still not Blade Runner.  As I’ve repeatedly noted, no robots walking the street, for instance.

Every now and then, though, you see something which makes you remember why Japanese technology is great.

Japanese long-haul trains often have first class carriages called “Green Cars”.  The major differences to a normal carriage are that you get more comfortable seats, tray tables, and much less crowding than when you mix with the *cough* commoners.

Naturally, this costs a little extra.  Just for the experience, I decided to give this a go recently.

Interestingly, you can’t buy a Green Car ticket outside the station.  Only once you’re at the platform can you buy  an upgrade.  However, you don’t get a paper ticket. The upgrade is only registered on your chargeable smart card (called a Suica).  So, if you can’t show anyone physical proof you’ve bought a Green Car ticket, and you’re already on the platform, how do train employees verify that only those with Green Car tickets are in the Green Car?  All is explained:

…or in other words…

Above your seat is a sticker and a status light.  The sticker is actually a contactless smart card reader.

Touch your card to the sticker, and the light above your seat turns green to indicate you’ve now registered your seat.  Of course, you can only do this if you’ve bought the Green Car upgrade previously.

So, it’s easy for the conductor to just look down the carriage and see the freeloaders sitting in a seat with a red light above it.

Even smarter is the reuse of information byproducts.  When you buy the upgrade, you need to tell it where you’re disembarking, since this affects the price.  Using this information, the lights above those getting off at a particular station can automatically be turned red, ready for another passenger to sit down and register themselves.

Rest of the world, learn from Japan.  They may not have replicants yet, but they do have awesome transport systems.


2 thoughts on “Light goes on, mind gets blown

  1. Very curious about the specific RF technology that’s being used. Also curious about privacy issues and how Japanese society deals with it.

    We have something that uses RFid for the public transport system and it’s a mega FAIL in all ways imaginable.

    One of the things that interests me about Japan is the way they use technology correctly. Having high-tech is one thing, implementing it such that it’s technically sound and in fact enhances user experience is something else!

    Now, if they only just create some skinjobs then I’ll definitely move. Or at least buy an artificial owl.

    • Can’t say I know too much about the specific tech at all. I know there has been some research into smartcard vulns in the UK and the Netherlands, but haven’t heard about the equivalent here so much. I’m not sure if the system is better implemented here in Japan, or it’s just that there’s just not as many security researcher troublemakers 🙂

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