advertisement
advertisement
advertisement

An Ice Cream Vending Machine That Literally Takes A Smile As Tender

Written by Evan Schuman
June 24th, 2010

Even for an ice cream story, you can’t get much more saccharin than this: A Unilever-backed vending machine that literally takes consumer smiles as payment for its product. Well, a smile plus a photo marketing release form coupled with a biometric guess of the consumer’s age and gender.

Unilever, the $49 billion ice cream giant—the world’s largest ice cream company, which owns brands including Ben & Jerry’s, Good Humor, Breyers, Klondike and Wall’s—is testing an ice cream machine in Lisbon (Portugal), Singapore and Paris (a U.K. location is imminent) that asks customers to smile.

The vending machine measures the smile and, if it’s large enough, the customer gets a free ice cream treat. But first, that customer has to agree to allow her smiling photo to be used by Unilever on a Facebook brand page and potentially later on Twitter and YouTube.

“We can actually force the person to smile,” said Michael Leonard, director of digital merchandising for SapientNitro, the vendor that created the machines for Unilever. Force? “Sure. They don’t get the ice cream if they don’t smile.”

When fully deployed, the machines will be vending for cash and “randomly selected people” will be offered the opportunity to smile broadly for their free treat, Leonard said. “We haven’t actually decided that number. It might be one of out of 10, one out of 20. We’ll be doing further market tests to figure out what the optimal number will be.”

Each machine will hold about 400 units of single-serving ice cream bars. “Once they smile, we give them the choice of four different flavors from the machine’s stock,” Leonard said.

The machine itself is fairly sophisticated and costs about $20,000 per unit. First, it automatically detects when consumers are nearby, using facial recognition and some sense of the likely distance of the face (and, presumably, the person attached to the face). It then uses a variety of animations and images—cars, submarines and a blimp, among others—and integrates them with video of people near the machine to lure people to get closer to the machine.

The system then tries to position one person’s face within various frame images. “We’ll use funny hats, a mustache, glasses, bow tie, afro hair, things like that,” Leonard said. It’s an approach that holds people’s attention because “they’re playing with the augmented reality.”

The machine is networked with a central station so the images can be periodically downloaded (“we batch ’em up and transmit every 15 to 20 minutes”) and inventory can be checked and refills scheduled.

The machines can be connected to headquarters several different ways, including hardwired, wireless antennae or a 3G card. (The five machines in Portugal, for example, are all 3G.)

The facial recognition software will project the customer’s age—within seven years—and take a guess at the gender. It will also analyze the expression to record the mood when the customer was first seen (“angry, happy, sad, surprised” according to a Unilever promotional video).

To qualify for the free product, consumers must press the share button, which acts as an automatic opt-in form. And when a person tries to position his face within that funny hat frame, it helps to get the face in the perfect position, which is critical for the software to find the mouth and literally measure the smile. It displays the results on a—we couldn’t make this up—smile-o-meter, which measures the smile 15 times a second. If the smile isn’t wide enough, no ice cream is released.

One of the more interesting parts of the machine is an antitheft feature, which combines multiple technologies. Let’s say someone is trying to steal money or the ice cream by yanking the machine back and forth or trying to topple it over. “It has a shock sensor, so it knows when it’s being tilted,” Leonard said. The machine is constantly grabbing video, so it will have images of whoever approached it last. And its connection allows the machine to immediately transmit those images back to headquarters, which can send police. A potential arrest and video of the thief doing the breaking. That’s an ice cream machine that knows how to defend itself.


advertisement

Comments are closed.

Newsletters

StorefrontBacktalk delivers the latest retail technology news & analysis. Join more than 60,000 retail IT leaders who subscribe to our free weekly email. Sign up today!
advertisement

Most Recent Comments

Why Did Gonzales Hackers Like European Cards So Much Better?

I am still unclear about the core point here-- why higher value of European cards. Supply and demand, yes, makes sense. But the fact that the cards were chip and pin (EMV) should make them less valuable because that demonstrably reduces the ability to use them fraudulently. Did the author mean that the chip and pin cards could be used in a country where EMV is not implemented--the US--and this mis-match make it easier to us them since the issuing banks may not have as robust anti-fraud controls as non-EMV banks because they assumed EMV would do the fraud prevention for them Read more...
Two possible reasons that I can think of and have seen in the past - 1) Cards issued by European banks when used online cross border don't usually support AVS checks. So, when a European card is used with a billing address that's in the US, an ecom merchant wouldn't necessarily know that the shipping zip code doesn't match the billing code. 2) Also, in offline chip countries the card determines whether or not a transaction is approved, not the issuer. In my experience, European issuers haven't developed the same checks on authorization requests as US issuers. So, these cards might be more valuable because they are more likely to get approved. Read more...
A smart card slot in terminals doesn't mean there is a reader or that the reader is activated. Then, activated reader or not, the U.S. processors don't have apps certified or ready to load into those terminals to accept and process smart card transactions just yet. Don't get your card(t) before the terminal (horse). Read more...
The marketplace does speak. More fraud capacity translates to higher value for the stolen data. Because nearly 100% of all US transactions are authorized online in real time, we have less fraud regardless of whether the card is Magstripe only or chip and PIn. Hence, $10 prices for US cards vs $25 for the European counterparts. Read more...
@David True. The European cards have both an EMV chip AND a mag stripe. Europeans may generally use the chip for their transactions, but the insecure stripe remains vulnerable to skimming, whether it be from a false front on an ATM or a dishonest waiter with a handheld skimmer. If their stripe is skimmed, the track data can still be cloned and used fraudulently in the United States. If European banks only detect fraud from 9-5 GMT, that might explain why American criminals prefer them over American bank issued cards, who have fraud detection in place 24x7. Read more...

StorefrontBacktalk
Our apologies. Due to legal and security copyright issues, we can't facilitate the printing of Premium Content. If you absolutely need a hard copy, please contact customer service.