In Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates where many affluent people live and a favorite tourist destination, JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization) is involved in the “Digital Marketing Project in Abu Dhabi at Ocha Café Sakura in Kinokuniya Bookstore” to introduce Japanese handicrafts. As part of the “TAKUMI NEXT” Project to support exports of Japanese traditional crafts, this project aims to connect manufacturers and buyers through feedback on what kind of Japanese products local customers are interested in and what improvements would make it easier for them to pick up.

AWL Lite, a video edge AI solution, was used in this project. AWL members teamed up to install AI cameras in the store and analyze the number of interested customers, their dwell time, and their attributes.

In this interview, AWL’s Izhar Almizan Wahono, Kensuke Kanazawa, Shoko Miura, who tackled this project, and Mr. Takahisa Ota of JETRO, who oversees the entire project, looked back the project.

*Interview, article, and photography by the external team.


An encounter at a tech exhibition led to the project in Abu Dhabi


– First, could you give us a brief history of the project?

Ota: We started from test-market JETRO’s “TAKUMI NEXT” products to foreign tourists at Haneda Airport in 2019. The purpose was to analyze what kind of products foreign tourists are interested in and provide feedback to manufacturers. In 2020, we were forced to cancel due to COVID-19 pandemic. But the following year we tried a similar project at “Dubai Mall” in Dubai, UAE, and had very positive reactions. As a next step, we decided to begin more detailed analysis of the project in Abu Dhabi, which has a large segment of the population with purchasing power and is visited by multinationals as a popular tourist destination.

– Why did you choose AWL’s Edge AI?

Ota: In 2021, AWL ran a booth in Japan Pavilion at “GITEX FUTURE STARS 2021” held in Dubai, the largest tech exhibition in the Middle East and Africa as one of a Japanese startup, and that was the time JETRO first met AWL. In fact, when we started the project in Abu Dhabi, we initially thought of getting AI cameras from a local company. However, although there were some companies that have AI solutions for factory management and stockout checks, there were no companies that could offer a B-to-C facial recognition service and meet our requirements. At that time, we learned about AWL, which was exhibiting at GITEX, and discussed the project. This is how we met.

Takahisa Ota

Director of Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Dubai Office. Oversees the Abu Dhabi Project.

After graduating from Sophia University, Takahisa joined JETRO and worked at JETRO Tokyo Headquarters and JETRO Bengaluru before taking up his current position at JETRO Dubai in 2021. As Director of Business Affairs, Takahisa oversees digital marketing projects as well as organizing exhibitions and business meetings.

– How were the AWL members selected?

Miura: I am a member of the Procurement Team and manage devices and equipment. Since this was our first overseas project, I started discussing with Tsuchida CHRO how to arrange devices. We did not immediately form the team, but selected right person as needed.

Kanazawa: As a front-line project manager, my role was to bridge the gap between the client and the engineers. In addition, I have more experience installing “AWL Lite” in Japan than any other Japanese members in our company, and I am proud to say that I am skilled at providing technical support. This is why I was given the opportunity to join the project. Izhar and I have worked together a lot, and he is an indispensable member to help me overcome the language barrier.


Overcome the difficulties caused by differences between Japan and overseas through teamwork utilizing remote communication.


– Did you use different devices to install “AWL Lite” in this overseas project?

Izhar: Edge AI solution was the same as in Japan.

Kanazawa: What we aimed for was a universal service that anyone can use anywhere, based on “AI that does not obsolete. In other words, AI that does not get old”. So far, in many cases, we and our partner companies who are skilled in handling digital signage have supported the installation of the service, but I personally have made it my mission to make it “versatile” so that clients can easily install it. We got a good opportunity to realize that.

Izhar Almizan Wahono

Prior to joining AWL, Izhar graduated from Graduate School of University of Tsukuba, and worked as a freelance front-end developer. Izhar joined AWL, Inc. in 2021, leading the Abu Dhabi Project as a project manager supporting the technical side.

Miura: In terms of challenges, one of the challenges we faced in introducing “AWL Lite” overseas for the first time was the Arab dress local people wear. Many of them cover their heads and faces with cloth, so we were worried whether we would be able to recognize them properly.

Izhar: I was worried at first, especially since local ladies wear a cloth called “hijab” to cover their head. However, I was relieved to see that our solution worked and could recognize them.

Kanazawa:  I was concerned about how much difference there would be from the projects Japan in terms of accuracy of data, but I was surprised to find out that we could obtain data with good accuracy.


– Did you face any other challenges?

Miura: The devices we installed AWL Lite were the same, but since Internet environment is different from Japan, Izhar and I had a lot of trouble finding a way to have stable Internet connection.

Izhar: In addition, since we could not visit the store as we did in Japan this time, we had to remotely set the parameters based on the data sent from the store. Also, Mr. Ota and the store staff helped adjust the camera angle to obtain proper lighting.

Ota: The store in Abu Dhabi where we showcase Japanese products has large windows, allowing plenty of sunlight to shine in. In addition, the climate in Abu Dhabi has no more than five rainy days in a year, and even cloudy days are rare. I think this difference was also a major factor for AI Camera.

Miura: Mr. Ota also helped us a lot. He passed in front of the camera so many times to adjust the camera angle so that the camera recognizes face properly and helped as instructed by Izhar, like “tilt the camera a little more” or “move away a little more” (laughs).


Shoko Miura

After graduating from a technical college, Shoko worked in the hospitality industry, a housing manufacturer, etc. After working for AWL as a temporary staff, Shoko joined the Procurement Team as a full-time employee. Shoko is in charge of managing devices and AWL’s contact window for the Abu Dhabi Project.

Ota: For me, it was an interesting experience to see how fine tuning is done even remotely (laughs).

Miura:  Since we don’t have much contact with clients in our daily work, it was a good experience for me to learn how Kanazawa and the other front-line members carry out their work.

Kanazawa: Actually, another underlying theme was to have Miura handle the front-line so that she could get a feel for what it was like on the front-line. Thanks to her, I myself was able to concentrate on organizing to-do and scheduling.


Feel confident about our daily methods, which can be applied overseas.


-Were you able to collect AWL Lite data without any problems?

Ota: Since a lot of quantitative data had been obtained, I feel that this would be the major feedback to sellers. In addition, by listening to the real voices of local staff, such as “the decisive factor in making a purchase” and “the reason why they did not buy”. It should lead to even better improvements. We had not experienced any problems or unforeseen circumstances such as “no data”.

Miura: Based on the data obtained by “AWL Lite”, we suggested that changing the display location might also change the sales of products.

Izhar: However, changing the display location did not have a significant impact on sales of popular products. We find it interesting that the sales situation shared by Mr. Ota and the data we have obtained match. We would like to analyze more customer behavior.

Kanazawa: For example, for a popular product, it is not necessary to be displayed near the entrance to enjoy good sales, but it can say that products with high sales are popular in the first place, wherever they are displayed.

Kensuke Kanazawa

After graduating from Nihon University’s College of Commerce, Kensuke worked in the service industry, including retail stores before joining AWL, Inc. Since joining AWL, Kensuke has overseen a wide range of activities from sales to support to install AI solutions. Kensuke played a role as a Project Manager of the Abu Dhabi Project, supporting the business side.

-How did you deal with the project?

Izhar: It was a very interesting and exciting project. Our solutions have obtained data in Japan for Japanese clients, but it was very emotional to see our product being used for the first time outside of Japan.

Miura: It was a great discovery that the services we usually provide can be used overseas as well. It was a moment when I realized once again that our diverse foreign human resources, led by Izhar, are a strength for competing in the world. I think that his hard work in taking care of the technical progress and translation was significant this time.

Kanazawa: I think it was really hard for Izhar (laughs). However, as Miura said, it was a great to know that the same techniques could be used outside of Japan. As for my personal theme of “versatility,” I think we were able to clear the first step because we found that we could handle the project remotely without visiting the site.

Ota: We at JETRO are also feeling the response. When marketing Japanese products overseas, it had been difficult to obtain clear numerical data until now, to be honest. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic, JETRO as a whole began to emphasize the importance of improving the quality of our corporate support services using digital technology, and we began to feel the significance of providing feedback to companies with clear numerical values. In doing so, we felt the possibility of using the latest Japanese technology, such as “AWL Lite,” to further expand our business. This is a collaboration that we felt a great potential.