Lifestyle

The Vending Machine That Snaps Selfies

In Japan, vending machines offer everything from drinks and snacks to beers and books – all except for this one.

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This vending machine by Kirin Beverage – one of Japan’s largest producers of beer and soft drinks, takes a free selfie and sends it to your smartphone when you’ve purchased a product.

Unlike conventional vending machines where the actual products are on view, Kirin’s new machine has a 46-inch touch screen LCD display. This “digital signage” allows all kinds of features to be added to the vending machine’s basic function of dispensing drinks. But the star attraction is its ability to take a unique selfie that can be shared with your friends via social media.

The vending machine starts by detecting when the customer is standing within a certain distance of it. Each time a drink is purchased, a built-in camera takes a photo, and then cuts out the human image from the surroundings and superimposes it onto a design frame.

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The photo is then sent to customers’ smartphones using the popular messaging app LINE. Five special backgrounds featuring LINE’s popular “Usa-chan” character and Kirin’s panda mascot can be applied to the photos. The resulting images are clear and sharp, and can be sent to customers’ smartphones within seconds. In the near future, the company also hopes to design custom backgrounds that are unique to a particular location, adding to the novelty value that Japanese consumers are always looking for.

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As sales of vending machines continue to flag in Japan due partly to a consumption tax hike on food and beverages, Kirin is hoping this latest innovation will make vending machines more appealing to consumers, explains Mr. Okabe, a spokesperson for Kirin Beverage Value Vendor.

Digital signage vending machines also allow for many practical applications. The display can show still or moving images, complete with sound, which can be used for advertising, or to provide important information such as news and weather reports, or even natural disaster notices. The machines are connected to a network around the clock, so disaster alerts can be transmitted and displayed on the screen in the event of a major earthquake, or if a tsunami warning is issued. This could make vending machines part of the information infrastructure that is vital in earthquake-prone Japan.

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Kirin also hopes that the new development will make vending machines easier to use for non-Japanese speakers, to cater for the increasing number of foreign tourists visiting Japan. The digital display has a multilingual interface and currently supports English, Chinese and Korean as well as Japanese. Product information can also be shown, such as nutritional information and allergy warnings. A sensor can even detect the age and gender of the customer facing the machine, allowing it to make tailored product recommendations.

The selfie function is one of the first innovations developed as part of a partnership between Intel and LINE, which was launched in October 2015 to promote IoT (Internet of Things) enabled solutions. LINE is Japan’s most popular social media platform, and its “LINE Business Connect” service allows companies to communicate with their users through the app. Customer data can then be leveraged for business or marketing, such as targeting communications to customers who responded to a previous campaign.

Mr. Okabe hopes that Kirin’s collaboration with Intel and LINE will open up a multitude of possibilities. The combination of data processing and communication technology has the potential to enhance the customer experience in all kinds of ways, including utilizing customers’ selfies to offer drinks promotions.

So next time you buy a drink at a Kirin vending machine in Japan, remember to smile!

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