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Daily Drip

Robots Are Using Facial Recognition to Sell You Banned Vapes

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The eye of scrutiny tightens around e-cigarettes worldwide, with regulators calling for stricter control in the face of alleged vape-related deaths and a boom in underage vaping.

In China, the vaping industry took a big hit when authorities banned online sales of vapes completely. But one of the country’s biggest players has responded in a totally measured way — opening 10,000 stores staffed by vape juice-mixing robots, armed with a facial recognition program dubbed “Project Sunflower”.

Leading vape manufacturer RELX (the “Juul of China”) is here to play ball. As brick-and-mortar retail dies an abrupt death in the world’s leading e-commerce market, vaping is taking the opposite route. With sales of their products banned online, e-cigarette makers are being forced to take it back to the old school.

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Well, sort of. Typical of China’s new retail scene, RELX’s stores are almost disturbingly advanced. The company launched two flagship stores in Shanghai and Beijing on Saturday, each equipped with two robots: one to customize e-liquids, and another to engrave your vape purchases (the definition of romance in 2020).

The expansion is just the beginning — RELX plans to invest 600 million RMB (85 million USD) to open 10,000 stores worldwide within three years.

What’s more, these stores are ready to absolutely vaporize any attempts at underage consumption. A press release explains that facial recognition technology will make sure that minors are “automatically identified and denied service”, in an initiative codenamed “Project Sunflower”, which is already in “full effect” at the flagship stores.

Great. Everything is great.

Adan Kohnhorst
Adan Kohnhorst is a Shanghai-based writer, producer, and multimedia artist, and the Associate Editor at RADII. His work has been featured in publications such as Maxim and the Chinese-language StreetVoice, and he’s an active member of the hip-hop and DIY music scenes in Shanghai, NYC, and Dallas. He learned Mandarin in high school so he could train at the Shaolin Temple, but now just uses it to interview rappers.