Smart Vending Machine Scans Your Face to Serve Up Snacks

Just how well does your office soda machine know you? A network of smart, connected vending machines will soon use facial recognition, NFC and a membership program to market and sell everything from food to electronics on their giant touch screens. The product of software giant SAP, these new high-tech machines will also use cloud technology and data analysis to make sure they stay stocked with your favorite drink and get repaired as soon as they break.

SAP Senior Director Carston Kress showed us a sample machine, which had a giant color touch screen in lieu of a window. The display had a rotating animation of snack items (sodas, candy bars, etc) on top of a lime green background. The top of the machine also had a camera, which it uses for facial recognition in order to see who it’s marketing to.

“For example, you have a group of people like us, three men and a woman,” Kress said. “This would be recognized by the machine and it can now drive a personalized campaign to the audience that stands in front of it.”

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According to Kress, the machine would be able to determine demographic characteristics such as age and gender and display appropriate content. He said that, for example, Coca Cola could partner with a movie studio to offer an exclusive trailer on the touch screen or make it available as a download so people using the machine could view it later.

Users can pay for items using either NFC payments, a credit card, cash or other mobile wallet apps. If the machine identifies you based on any of this data, it can market snacks or other products to you based on your previous purchases. The machine will be cloud connected to other vending machines owned by the same company, so you will receive the same messages everywhere.

The new vending machine also allows users to send gifts to friends. We watched Kress enter gift mode, picked out a package of potato chips and then chose a recipient from a list of friends. He said that users will be able to enter their social media accounts into the vending machine so the system will know who their friends are. After choosing a recipient, the vending machine sends a notification message to the friend, along with a code that allows the recipient to pick up the gift at a participating vending machine.

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We’re not sure many people would want to gift a snack or soda, but Kress said that the vending machines could be used for all kinds of products, including electronics. He said that SAP has even received requests from manufacturing companies that want to use the machines to dispense equipment to workers.

The new vending machines don’t only do a better job of communicating with users; they also make sure they are properly serviced and stocked. The system sends an alert to its owner when it runs out of stock and keeps track of which items sell best so companies can stock more of hot selling items. Because it sends a message listing which items are out of stock, replenishment agents don’t have to open the machine to find out what sodas they need to grab from the truck.

The connected vending machines also send alerts to their owners when they experience technical problems. The software combines the service and stock alerts with sales data so companies can dispatch their service people to the most profitable machines first.

There’s no word yet on where we’ll see SAP’s new vending machines and which companies will be using them. However, with the amount of flexibility and personalization they provide, these systems could redefine the vending experience, leading to a new breed of kiosks that sell electronics and other non-food items. The service will likely be better than you receive at many retail stores.

Avram Piltch is Tom's Hardware's editor-in-chief. When he's not playing with the latest gadgets at work or putting on VR helmets at trade shows, you'll find him rooting his phone, taking apart his PC or coding plugins. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram developed many real-world benchmarks, including our laptop battery test.