In December, Amazon announced that it was developing a new grocery store concept that would eliminate checkout lines by automatically tracking what shoppers bring out of the shop. The idea sparked a lot of controversy, primarily surrounding the thought of one of the world's largest technology company tracking the movements and spending habits of its customers. But Amazon isn't the only organization that's investing in wallet-less shopping. This summer, a New York-based company is bringing personalized, interactive, artificially intelligent vending machines to the city.
Viatouch Interactive Media has announced that it's rolling out a new line of products that will "replace traditional vending machines of the past with auto-retail devices that are enabled by artificial intelligence and other contemporary technologies." (The company also uses the word "disrupt" in its mission statement, so you know these guys are serious.)
The product in question is called VICKI, an acronym for Viatouch Intelishelf Cognitive Kinetic Interactions. The things look like giant iPods that have been turned into refrigerators. Users at the machines can log in with their Facebook accounts or their fingerprints, and grab whatever they please from inside. The products that VICKI can dole out range from snacks and beverages to headphones and other small goods. When a customer takes something off of the shelf, the machine displays the total cost of the removed items. VICKI can also play ads and provide information on each product, make recommendations based of a user's purchasing history and even tell a user "Happy Birthday" based off the information in their profile.
Sure, it's kind of creepy. And sure, it will using one of these smart machines for the first time will definitely bring about a good dose of future shock. But artificially intelligence is "disrupting" the shopping space at a rapid rate, and VICKI is yet another awkward step into a brave new world in which a robot clerk knows exactly how many bags of potato chips you've eaten in a given month.
Photograph: Courtesy Viatouch