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Coffee trends: RFID and the Coffee Lover’s Dream

RFID and the Coffee Lover’s Dream


March 31, 2008
By Brian Martell

Topics

Remember the scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey when HAL says “I can’t
let you do that Dave” in reference to Dave’s thoughts about the
computer being the problem and thinking that turning HAL off would be a
good idea.

Remember the scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey when HAL says “I can’t let you do that Dave” in reference to Dave’s thoughts about the computer being the problem and thinking that turning HAL off would be a good idea.

Well, the ability to read minds just might get a little closer to the truth than previously considered.  Now in all fairness, no hunk of metal is going to be able to independently read anything, let alone your mind, but what if we could make vending machines that would be able to prepare your favourite beverage without you even asking for it?

Sounds far out?

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Well not really; you see there are companies currently exploring the possibility of using RFID to determine a beverage/ product preference from consumers so that the only interaction the customer has to make is to be near the machine and make his or her intentions clear that
they would like something out of the machine.

RFID (radio frequency identification) is becoming more ubiquitous as a means for retailers to track the movement of merchandise equipped with RFID tags. As RFID tags become less and less costly to manufacture (to give you an idea, RFID tags are placed in packaging for disposable razors to track their movements for a large U.S. retailer) their place in the
information age will become more fixed.

As a product moves from the truck to the warehouse, readers pick up the signal of all the items on the pallet and record them into the inventory database until they are moved to another facility where they are yet again read and recorded. Each RFID tag tells a unique story, albeit short, such as product description, UPC, date code, maybe weight, etc.

So, why not use this pre-existing technology to allow consumers to carry their beverage preference RFID tag (disguised as a credit card, jewelry or some other common personal effect) to beam information to a patiently waiting vending machine? The information on the RFID tag could be imputed on these tags by the consumer, perhaps from vending machines specifically designed to hand out these free tags, which would then allow a host of preferences to be selected on various products.

For example, if you like your coffee strong and with milk and just a little sugar, then that would be beamed to the machine when you are close enough to pay for the beverage and all you need do is hit a button that says “the usual” (usual to you that is) and confirm on the screen what the usual is so as not to confuse your usual with the guy standing right behind you. The same could be used for other products such as pop or snacks.

Going one step further, your RFID may also be accompanied by a PIN (personal ID number) that you would input into the machine and that would then allow you to choose what you want without having to deposit money because you have already pre-paid or will be billed at the end of the month for your purchases.

Since 2005, USA Technologies, an American company dealing in cashless payment systems, has installed a form of RFID readers in vending machines (for payment only) in New York City and Atlanta.  The machines read those credit cards, which already have the embedded RFID chip. But the cards need to be swiped through the machine to work.

The biggest fear consumers could have would be to walk by a bank of machines that all of a sudden start spitting out coffees and other food items without any prompt from the consumer. To ensure that there be no vending machine paranoia of what is lurking around the corner, there would have to be some physical interaction between vendor and customer. What this technology could do is make what is already very convenient, just that much more so.o

Questions or comments? E-mail Brian at Brian@heritage-coffee.com.


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