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IDF 2012: Intel technology drives intelligent Coke machine

You tend to see a lot of cool stuff at IDF, but Intel will have to pull something pretty special out of the bag to beat the Coke machine that was up on stage during this morning’s opening keynote. You may be wondering what could possibly be exciting about a soft drink vending machine, but actually there’s quite a lot.

What you’ve got here is a Coke machine that’s being driven by an Intel Core i7 CPU, making it more powerful than the majority of dedicated computers these days. But why does it need so much compute power to simply dispense bottles of coke to passers by?

If you’re expecting to see rows of Coke bottles, as you would in an average vending machine, think again. The fascia of this machine is dominated by a massive 46in multi-touch screen, on which the user can view what’s available and swipe around to the type of Coke they’re after.

Once you’ve selected your drink you can choose to purchase it, but you’re probably not going to want to use something as antiquated as money with this machine. Okay, it does accept money, both coins and notes, but it also has a built-in QR code reader, so you could simply hold up a voucher or your mobile phone assuming you have the right app loaded. The machine also has NFC, so once again you could use your phone or even an NFC enabled credit card, so you won’t end up patting yourself down looking for loose change next time you’re thirsty.

But that 46in screen isn’t just used to show you giant pictures of Coke bottles, it can also display the image from the machine’s built-in 1080p camera. This allows you to take a photo of yourself – with a bottle of Coke in your hand of course – and share it with friends. There’s integrated Wi-Fi, so you can take the photo and email it to anyone, anywhere.

Although there was no talk of video conferencing via the Coke machine, the inclusion of the camera, screen, Wi-Fi and a microphone would surely make it possible. The downside would be that anyone walking by would get a pretty good view of whomever you’re talking to!

But all that cool imaging and communication technology isn’t just there for customers to enjoy, it also provides Coca-Cola with a huge amount of data on every customer that buys a drink from the machine. With almost no research effort necessary, Coca-Cola is finding out the sex of its customers, their approximate age and the type of drink they prefer – all in real time.

Of course it’s this use of technology that raises that question about privacy again, and how much of our data should be harvestable by large corporations. Especially if, in the case of this Coke machine, it’s logging the email addresses that customers are sending images to. That said, Coca-Cola isn’t forcing anyone to use the machine or its enhanced features, so how much the company learns about you is really in your own hands.

If you’re wondering when machines like these will be hitting the streets, they’re already here. Coca-Cola has already rolled out the Sia Interactive developed machines in South America, so don’t be surprised if they start appearing near you.

Riyad has been entrenched in technology publishing for more years than he cares to remember, having staffed and edited some of the largest and most successful IT magazines in the UK. In 2003 he joined forces with Hugh Chappell to create They built TR into the UK’s market leading technology publication before selling the title to IPC Media / Time Warner in 2007. As Editorial Director at Net Communities, Riyad will be helping to develop the publishing portfolio, making IT Pro Portal the best publication it can be.