Pennsylvania Toys With Self-Service Wine Kiosks With Integrated Facial Recognition and Breathalyzers

Written by Evan Schuman
July 16th, 2009

Pennsylvania is preparing to test an unusual grocery store-based wine-selling kiosk, one that demands a photo driver’s license to establish age and then uses facial recognition to try and match the customer to that license image. The system also requires that the customer breathe into the kiosk and it will not complete the sale if it detects that the customer is already drunk.

The state’s Liquor Control Board has pledged that the kiosks will be watched through video cameras and will have the remote ability to prevent a sale if something looks suspicious. But Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has ordered the plan halted, saying that he supports the idea but wants to investigate to see if the kiosks actually work. (This is why he’s governor and not a retail CIO. Cool technology should never have to pass the “does it actually work test” until after it’s been fully deployed. Silly politician.)

But the kiosk comes at a critical time. California’s assembly has now passed a law prohibiting self-service wine kiosks—the measure is now before California’s senate—mostly due to concerns that the technology doesn’t prevent underage purchases.

That legislation may have been influenced by a June Univ. of California study that questioned whether alcohol lockouts work and whether self-service kiosks are adequately monitored. But the devices California addressed were not nearly as complex as the Pennsylvania kiosks.

Pennsylvania prohibits all alcohol before 21 years of age and runs a strict state store system that bans alcohol outside of its controlled locations.

The vendor behind the kiosk—Simple Brands LLC, of Conshohocken, PA—has never done this before so it’s truly an experimental system. The state isn’t paying for the systems and the vendor isn’t permitted to make money from sales of alcohol, with the vendor hoping to make its money from selling ads on the kiosk screen.

According to a copy of the contract Simple has with Pennsylvania, Simple will deliver RFID tags that the state can affix to every bottle it sells in the wine kiosk.

The state also noted in its contract the potential for privacy issues with the kiosk data, requiring that “any data including payment card data and blood alcohol levels” not be disclosed to any third-party.

The contract also revealed the state’s plans to boot out its current IBM StorePay payment card processing software to Oracle’s Retail Central Office. Until it makes the move, though, the contract gave a glimpse into the state’s current setup: “”The wine kiosks will process credit card transactions through the IBM StorePay software. The wine kiosks will be linked to the (state’s) network via the Cisco router installed in each wine kiosk and connected to the (state’s) network via the (state’s) network provider, Level-3.”


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