Putmenu lets diners send their choices directly to a restaurant's kitchen once they place their smartphone on a smart mat. All they have to do is pick up the mat's ID via a Bluetooth LE link, order through the app and wait for the food to arrive.
Of course, it also minimizes human interaction with restaurant staff and could threaten their jobs. But someone still has to bring out the food.
At a demo in Tokyo on Friday, a smartphone with the app was placed on the Bluetooth mat. The mat's ID was immediately registered, allowing burgers on a mock menu to be ordered. The order was then printed by a cloud-linked kitchen terminal.
Although Putmenu is still in the testing phase, restaurant ordering is the first application being promoted by the mat's makers, which include major Japanese fiber manufacturer Teijin.
The recently developed PaperBeacon, as it's called, is a bit bigger than a sheet of printer paper and measures 1mm thick. Each mat has a unique ID number managed in a cloud-based database. When an app picks up a mat's ID, it queries the database and sends the order to a restaurant's kitchen printer.
The mats are coated in white plastic, run on a one-year battery and contain a flat Bluetooth tag with a limited range of about 2cm, spread out over the entire surface.
A phone or tablet next to the mat won't pair with it, ensuring that the order is associated with a mat and that individuals can be identified in a group of users. As long as they don't play musical chairs, of course.
The app can save diners and staff time and can display restaurant menus in the user's preferred language, reducing confusion for foreign tourists, said Tony Saito, CEO of U.S.-based developer Putmenu, which plans field trials starting in July.
"PaperBeacon apps could also have credit card and other e-payment options that would make splitting the bill for groups of diners easy, since they know exactly what each person ordered," said Akatsuki Torii, CEO of TagCast, a Tokyo-based location information startup that developed with mat with Teijin and Cell Cross, a spinoff of the University of Tokyo.
The companies plan to ship about 10,000 PaperBeacons, which start at ¥5,000 (US$40) with an initial ¥800 monthly service fee, to enterprise users over the next year, envisioning a ¥50 trillion market for beacon technology in the future.
They also see the mats being integrated into classroom desks so that students can use them to authenticate their tablets for attendance, lesson materials and other functions.
Tim Hornyak covers Japan and emerging technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Tim on Twitter at @robotopia.