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Japan railway firm creates versatile grabbing arm to quickly retrieve items from tracks

The multipurpose grabbing arm device developed by JR West is seen at JR Osaka Station on June 2, 2021. (Mainichi/Maiko Umeda) =Click/tap photo for more images.

OSAKA -- West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) has developed and introduced the latest model of a multipurpose grabbing arm device to quickly retrieve items dropped on rail tracks from station platforms.

    With sticky pads and a magnet attached to one end of the stick, the device has made it easy to pick up items including tiny ones such as wireless earbuds that had been difficult to retrieve. A JR West representative expressed confidence in retrieving an item "within a minute," so it is not expected to disrupt train schedules.

    The latest version of the device is made of glass fiber and is about 2.4 meters in length when stretched and about 860 grams in weight. In addition to conventional mechanical claws, two sticky pads to fetch thin objects such as IC cards and smartphones, a magnet to retrieve wireless earbuds, a hook to pick up bags and high-heeled shoes, and a light for use at night have been newly attached.

    Behind its development is the widening range of objects people accidentally drop on tracks. Wireless earbuds, which are shaped like earplugs, are especially easy to drop, and it is difficult to pick them up if they fall between the crushed stones on the rail tracks. As they are expensive, with some being priced in the range of tens of thousands of yen (hundreds of dollars), passengers have been making more requests to retrieve them. There were as many as 1,323 such cases during April this year -- a record high. A representative at JR West's railroad headquarters said, "Because the timing of retrieval work is adjusted with the operation command center, it hardly affects train schedules." Even so, there had been strong calls in the field for measures to address the problem of dropped items on tracks.

    JR West's station operations department and others started joint research with a manufacturer to develop the latest version of the device, and made a prototype in November 2019. After verifying the magnetic force so that the magnet is not drawn to the tracks or train cars, they launched full-scale use of the device in May this year at a total of 109 stations including Osaka and Tennoji.

    "We have managed to make a retrieval device that had never existed before," said a representative at the station operations department. "If you drop something, never go down to the rail tracks; instead, contact station staff nearby."

    (Japanese original by Masaki Takahashi, Osaka City News Department)

    In Photos: JR West creates versatile grabbing arm to quickly retrieve items from tracks

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