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'Smart' Vending Machines Triple Sales 234

Posted by Soulskill
from the by-tom-cruise's-eyeballs dept.
bossanovalithium writes "A vending machine in Japan which recommends drinks to customers based on facial recognition data has tripled sales. JR East Water Business has previously installed two vending machines in JR Shinagawa station and it is believed that the recognition technology is responsible for a vast increase in sales in comparison to traditional machines. The vending machines recommend beverages after physical attributes of customers are picked up by sensors which allow the machines determine age, sex and other attributes, before offering a number of suggestions."
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'Smart' Vending Machines Triple Sales

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  • Tea? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 15, 2010 @04:25PM (#34235076)

    Regardless of your age, sex, or other characteristics, the machines always produce a beverage almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

    • Re:Tea? (Score:4, Funny)

      by Extremus (1043274) on Monday November 15, 2010 @04:30PM (#34235162)
      However, if you stick a photo of Margareth Thatcher to your face, it will produce a beverage entirely like tea, but with poison in it.
    • by cayenne8 (626475)
      Hmm, with me, I guess it should be either Balvenie [wikipedia.org] 21yr scotch, or a good beer (currently enjoying Hopitoulas [nolabrewing.com] as a good local favorite).

      Depends if it is a school night or not mostly...hard to get up for work the next day early, after too many scotches on the rocks.

      I for one would happily encourage such vending machines in the US, but if they only gave out boring soft drinks and the like...fsck them.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Balvenie is fine, but the doublewood is just too woody to drink without a little water to open it up. I never thought I would find such a drink, but it really is too woody.

        • by cayenne8 (626475)
          "Balvenie is fine, but the doublewood is just too woody to drink without a little water to open it up. I never thought I would find such a drink, but it really is too woody."

          Well, I figure the ice cubs I swirl it around in...melts and provides the water required.

          I think the 12yr is the only double wood they do? Give the 15yr (single barrel) or the 21 year (port wood) a try...they are VERY smooth.

          I have had the 17yr (sherry wood) that was quite nice too. But give theirs that aren't doublewood a try and s

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by vlm (69642)

      Regardless of your age, sex, or other characteristics, the machines always produce a beverage almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

      US version sticks to slightly diluted high fructose corn syrup.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ArsonSmith (13997)

        When I walked by it suggested diet soda or water and a jog around the park.

      • Re:Tea? (Score:4, Funny)

        by TapeCutter (624760) * on Monday November 15, 2010 @08:21PM (#34237420) Journal
        Yeah, every time there is a story on these machines I'm reminded of the toaster in Red Dwarf.

        "How about a cola"
        No.
        "Lemonade"
        No, I'm not thirsty.
        "Some sort of sweetened cabonated water"
        I don't want a drink
        "Maybe some iced tea will change your mind?"
        No it won't.
        "You don't like iced tea?"
        I like iced tea.
        "Please deposit $2 for your iced tea."
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Chris Burke (6130)

      Whenever I use one of these they always either spit out a bottle of Clearasil, or a paper bag with eye holes cut out.

    • by camperslo (704715)

      You'd think that with all of the genetically altered and engineered food out there, they would have it altering our DNA so that an unaltered image of our faces contains what amounts to a stenographic browser cookie. That's in parallel with the old-school tech of the infrared readable barcode on the forehead.

      Ready to go on new diet yet?? Maybe it is time for a list of approved geek foods.

      - -
      Conan, once a writer for the Simpsons, now lives on TBS. Competing slot with John Stewart?!?

      • by sumdumass (711423)

        That's not really technically feasible.

        And if it was, then someone could genetically engineer you from the ability to get ill from cancer or by virus or other infection by adding it to the food supply. Yes, if it was possible, I could think of a ton of more productive uses then suggesting which flavor of Doritos or cola to purchase.

        • by Dthief (1700318)
          Would you be surprised if the most productive use (saving lives from cancer) got put on hold in order to make more money (sell Doritos)
      • by Tumbleweed (3706) *

        You'd think that with all of the genetically altered and engineered food out there, they would have it altering our DNA so that

        That was the interesting part of your post. Here's how I would've continued it... ...it only has to serve one drink, thus maximizing profit for the vending machine owner.

    • Regardless of your age, sex, or other characteristics, the machines always produce a beverage almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

      Or actual green tea, which you find in more vending machines than plain water over there. There are in fact vending machines which serve nothing but various brands of green tea. It will be funny if and when they put this technology on those machines. "Determining height and weight.... calculating drink demographics... comparing to available products... suggestion: buy some green tea or GTFO."

    • by sconeu (64226)

      And when it delivers said beverage, it says "Share and Enjoy!"

  • The Japanese get a kick out of profiling and the gimmicky amusement of having a machine tell you that girls like the girly brand of tea isn't a long-term business model.
    • I agree. Vending machines are everywhere in Tokyo. You'll find a row of vending machines across the street from a row of vending machines, you then walk around the corner and there will be another row of vending machines. Vending machines equipped with this have tripled sales, you can't tell me that's new customers. Look at sales from surrounding, normal vending machines (and there will be other vending machines nearby.) They'll have decreased sales: people who were going to buy a drink bought it from

  • by decipher_saint (72686) on Monday November 15, 2010 @04:28PM (#34235116) Homepage

    Do the machines call out? If they do I hope they sound like Bender (but you know, in Japanese):

    "Hey fatass, got a nice 200 oz can of fried chicken here!"

    "Hey baby! All the supermodels are drinking Diet Water, what's your deal?"

    And so forth...

    • by Nidi62 (1525137)

      "Hey fatass, got a nice 200 oz can of fried chicken here!"

      Fried chicken comes in a can now? Sweet! Now I can eat a KFC Doubledown and wash it down with even more fried chicken!

    • by Migraineman (632203) on Monday November 15, 2010 @04:55PM (#34235472)
      More than likely, OmniBot 6000 recommends the most expensive item currently in inventory, and tells you the selection is based on a "complex algorithm involving facial analysis."
      • by arth1 (260657)

        Not necessarily the most expensive, but a combination of highest profit margin and highest inventory.
        Once there's only one bottle of Led Bru left, there's no point in pushing it on customers.

    • It'll be even more embarrasing when the machine puts you in the "used girl's panties" demographic.

      They have nice vending machines over there... In a little alley near my hotel they had one that sold a selection of *bottles* of whisky. Funny how that would never work ovr here because
      1) Politicians would go apeshit... encouragingpeopleotdrinkwecanthavethatohnoes.
      2) After sundown the machine would last less than 5 minutes before someone would smash the glass and steal the whisky.
  • Lawsuit city! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by snarfies (115214) on Monday November 15, 2010 @04:28PM (#34235126) Homepage

    I can't wait until a big fatso waddles up to one of these machines in America so I can see what the machine recommends. It either recommends a Diet Coke, because you're fat and need to lose a few (dozen), or it offers you a regular Coke, because it knows you probably drink a LOT of it. Its a lawsuit either way. Either the fatso has their feelings hurt and sues for emotional damage, or some random do-gooder sues for pushing sugary drinks to those who lack the willpower to say "no."

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Problem is - this kind of profiling isn't against the law.

      Where's the lawsuit about Tab Energy being marketted directly towards women?

      Go look for it. That should keep you buys for a while.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by natehoy (1608657)

        Very true, but GP wasn't talking about being "arrested for breaking the law", he was talking about "being sued for emotional damage" or being sued for "pushing sugary drinks to those who lack the willpower to say "no"".

        Sadly, you don't have to violate an actual law to be sued. You only have to be found responsible for harm done to someone else, and that harm can be as a result of perfectly legal actions.

        In fact, the fact I can be sued for doing something legal makes me sad. I should sue the ambulance-chas

        • You can be sued but you can't guarantee you'll win the case.

          There aren't TOO many cases where people have won the lawsuit where they are suing just for emotional damages. Otherwise, I could sue my employer for not letting me spend every waking moment over at a ski-resort.

          You'd be in for quite a stretch if you were going to sue someone for emotional damages over being offered a beverage.

          Would you like fries with that?

    • Re:Lawsuit city! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by hansamurai (907719) <hansamurai@gmail.com> on Monday November 15, 2010 @04:43PM (#34235306) Homepage Journal

      When I was in Japan a few times earlier this decade I drank a ton of Coke. I don't know what it was about it but it was super delicious. I'm guessing it was real sugar instead of HFCS. So yeah, I hope they recommend Coke!

      The catch in Japan is that it's not socially polite to walk around with drinks, you're encouraged to hang out at the vending machine and finish it off right there. Of course, taboos be damned, we had cheap electronics stores to explore.

      • by mcsqueak (1043736)

        The catch in Japan is that it's not socially polite to walk around with drinks, you're encouraged to hang out at the vending machine and finish it off right there. Of course, taboos be damned, we had cheap electronics stores to explore.

        Yeah, and they enforce it by not having recycling bins or trash cans ANY WHERE except right by the vending machines, yet somehow there isn't litter all over the place. When I was there it was incredibly warm and humid, so I'd walk around with a bottle of water or whatever just to stay hydrated, despite the lack of manners it displayed.

        • GJ you two. Mighty big of you, visiting other people's countries and wilfully showing poor manners. You seem so proud. Represent your country well.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Cwix (1671282)

            Alright, I believe wearing a medical mask in public to be insulting. So all the Asians who come to visit, and wear those damned masks must take them off immediately.

            Get real. This isn't them stomping around someones house in muddy shoes. Its carrying a bottle of water around with you. If they honestly find it that offensive, I will take my tourist dollars elsewhere.

    • by Kvasio (127200)

      It may also suggest bottled water. In Europe both CC and PC produce it, I bet that it's the same in USA.

    • by arth1 (260657)

      I'm more worried about religious nuts (but, I repeat myself) who will file complaints and lawsuits when they repeatedly get recommended caffeinated beverages that are against their religion, even after politely telling the machine that they're Adventists/LDS/whathaveyou.

  • Listen you stupid machine, it tastes filthy! Here, take this cup back!
  • by dtmos (447842) on Monday November 15, 2010 @04:30PM (#34235166)

    I'd be satisfied just with a vending machine that (a) was stocked with what I want, and (b) didn't steal my money when I tried to buy it.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I'd call that HIGHER standards than being marketed to, and no, it ain't gonna happen.

  • by cupantae (1304123) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (llienoram)> on Monday November 15, 2010 @04:37PM (#34235236)

    But the new technology offers some frightening prospects. With machines telling us what to drink how long until we are told what to eat and what to wear? The idea of a 1984-style Big Brother state fronted by the double-headed hydra that is a computerised Trinny and Susanna is almost too scary.

    Even for a joke, seriously, what? How is personalised advertisement anything close to what you just said?

  • Sounds like hype. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chemicaldave (1776600) on Monday November 15, 2010 @04:37PM (#34235244)
    I imagine most people are trying these now for the novelty of it all. That might be the whole point, but if I normally didn't use vending machines then this probably wouldn't make me use it more than once or twice to see what it does. If I were the owner, I'd set it to recommend more expensive drinks.
    • by srussia (884021)

      If I were the owner, I'd set it to recommend more expensive drinks.

      Margin. It's the margin that counts.

    • by hsmith (818216)
      Ding. It is something new to try out - people will throw $2 into a machine to see something cool. I'd expect sales to level out in due time.
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        If they are smart it is in a touristy area. I bet one in Niagara Falls/Disney Land/Sea World would make a killing.

      • True but vending machines in japan are a bit of a free market. It is still cooler using the 47" touch screen that talks to you than the other machines. So they may hold the market over the other machines in the area for a while.
    • Note that this is in Japan, the coffee drinks in their vending machines are actually pretty good, and already expensive. And from what I remember from my four day stay-over seventeen years ago, vending machines were not just used for coffee or soda drinks, some had soup, and some had porn magazines, manga, and vibrators (and these vending machines were not just in their red light districts, I'm talking about plain well-maintained and sophisticated electronic vending machines that one could even find in the

  • AHA! No wonder I couldn't find that last Quantum Cola to complete the collection. Have to go to Japan for it. The machine knows what you need.

  • The sad thing is that my ex-girlfriend looked at my face and made the same recommendation. The sadder thing is that she was a machine too.

    Sigh.

  • If we in the U.S. would more fully adopt the dollar coin, and also a $2 coin like the Toonie [wikipedia.org], even we could have such nice things. Until then, we'll have to keep digging out pocketfuls of quarters and trying our luck with the bill acceptor.

    • by Yvan256 (722131)

      It's even one step higher than that (or one step backwards, depending on how you look at it), people in Japan can pay using their cellphones.

      I can't wait for the 5$CAD coins though. I'm gonna buy a bag for my coins and tie it to my belt, next to my mana and health potions*.

      * for the humour-impaired, this is a joke about how the 5$ coin is probably going to be 5 cm in diameter and weight 500 grams.

    • by khallow (566160)
      Dollar coins are dead ends as well. I counted cash at a resort in Yellowstone for a couple of years. I can't disclose money volume due to an NDA, but I saw around 1 coin per ten thousand dollars of cash deposit (singles were at least two orders of magnitude more prevalent). Most of the interest I did see in such coins was from collectors trying to pick up presidents they were missing. The dollar coin goes with the two dollar bill or the fifty dollar bill as something that's just not necessary and near unive
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        We need to discontinue the dollar bills, that would solve the problem. Coins last longer and are cheaper to make. Also discontinue all coins below the quarter.

        • by khallow (566160)

          We need to discontinue the dollar bills, that would solve the problem. Coins last longer and are cheaper to make. Also discontinue all coins below the quarter.

          Except that it's blindingly obvious that nobody aside from some vending machine operators and a few outliers such as yourself want dollar coins. Now discontinuing small coins has some benefit. Nobody wants to count pennies. But if you're going to discontinue everything below a quarter, you might as well consider discontinuing coins completely.

    • and trying our luck with the bill acceptor

      I can’t even remember the last time I had a bill rejected by one of those. It must have been at least several years ago.

  • I don't get it.

    You have this big machine with a matrix of choices. Either it has what you want or not. How does a "song and dance" number help sales exactly?

    Do the Japanese need to be told that they are thirsty or some such?

    Perhaps the vending machine is producing a stamped document of some sort... '-p

    It's not like you are exactly starting with American style coke machines to begin with.

  • If I ever go to Japan I am *soooooo* wearing a clown mask up to one of these machines.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 15, 2010 @04:57PM (#34235502)

    I was in Japan when they rolled these out, and had a chance to drop by and see/use them at the station. It seems the recognition system wasn't working when I was there, which was only a couple days after they were installed. But that aside, what's likely increasing sales at this point is the novelty, and the news coverage. There were consistent lines in front of these things for a few days after they were installed, because they had been featured in the news on a few channels (outside of Tokyo as well). In a country where you can barely go 500 feet before you see another vending machine, having a huge (and quite nice) video display instead of the usual fake bottles/cans stands out, especially because they're in a great spot where almost anyone going to or from the local JR lines will see.

    There have been video-based vending machines before, mostly from Coke. But most of the ones I had seen three years ago where gone last year- in my experience they used too many useless transition screens and responded horribly slow, making them fairly painful to use compared to normal machines. The new ones in Shinagawa station are really nice in comparison, and least do as good a job as a good old machine.

    Lines tend to be self-maintaining once they form. That initial news coverage seeded the interest initially, and since then has just continued based on bystanders noticing an unusual number of people around a vending machine. A similar reason to why every Krispy Kreme in the country has hour or longer waits on weekends, even months after grand opening.

    I don't see there being much of a plan to roll those machines out in many areas outside of the main cities, and even then they're going to be most appropriate in high-traffic areas like stations and airports. I imagine they use more power than a standard machine, so it wouldn't be worth it at all to replace the current machines which line the streets of less dense areas.

  • If they bring this kind of machine in other countries, I hope they update the thing so that it says "Share and enjoy!" after each sale.

  • 2G1C (Score:5, Funny)

    by vlm (69642) on Monday November 15, 2010 @05:12PM (#34235666)

    The vending machines recommend beverages after physical attributes of customers are picked up by sensors which allow the machines determine age, sex and other attributes, before offering a number of suggestions.

    What if there are multiple people in the photo? For example, if two girls are standing in front of the machine, does it offer them one cup?

  • Next time I'm in Japan, I'm surely gonna check what it suggests to a gaijin like me. Is it programmed to offer us the diet coke poison or some exotic Japanese drink like Pocari Sweat?
  • This will wear off eventually.

    You can't use a tech gimmick in the vending machine to make the market permanently want to buy three times the number of drinks.

    How much of that figure is the consequence of lost sales in the other vending machines? I.e. people who normally would go to any machine are drawn to the new, shiny one that recognizes their face and recommends drinks?

    If you own both the new and old type of vending machine, reshuffling sales among them doesn't help you.

    If you could replace every single

  • "Your Recommendation: There's a drinking fountain right behind you. It's infinitely better for you than any of the crap in this machine, and it's free. Have a nice day."

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