This smart vending machine is the future of technology

Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo

There are a number of big tech trends sweeping the business landscape, including mobile devices, social connectivity, gamification, cloud computing, big data, and the Internet of Things. They can often seem like buzzwords, not easily connected to the real world and how we do business today.

But sometimes you see a real-world example that reminds you how these technologies are changing the way we work. Last week at Mobile World Congress, I saw a great example of this convergence a very odd place: A snack vending machine at the SAP booth.

It starts with mobile and the cloud. You need money to buy stuff from the digital vending machine, so the first thing SAP did was give me 50 euro by opening up a SmartPhone app and transferring the money from the bank -- through the cloud of course -- to my account.

I logged onto the vending machine by using my NFC-enabled conference badge, but I could very easily have used an NFC smart phone if I had one -- I don't because my primary phone is an iPhone 5s, which doesn't support NFC.

Credit: Ron Miller
The customized smart vending machine from SAP

When I logged on, the machine recognized me and displayed a welcome message, as you can see in the photo. If I had been on the machine before, it would have checked my order history and give me some offers tailored to my snack-buying habits. If I had given it permission to link to my Facebook profile, it would have displayed a list of my friends and let me buy them snacks right from the machine. And it's gamified too, so that as I buy snacks I can go through various levels. Notice that I'm just a "Baby Snacker" right now. I have to do better than that.

When you buy something from the machine, money is withdrawn from your balance automatically. No cash is needed. There's no bumbling with getting bills to fit in the slot or digging the change out of your pocket or purse. It just gives you the snack -- which could actually be a little too convenient for some. 

As you interact with the machine it learns about you and what you like and alters its offers accordingly. You can even customize the machine with different themes and background colors, and an SAP spokesperson told me that each time I logged on to any other machine owned by the same snack company, it would remember the personalization settings and display accordingly.

But where it really starts to get interesting is its sensors. Because the machine is filled with sensors connected to a network, it knows when it needs supplies or repairs. As it broadcasts its requirements behind the scenes, the system automatically prioritizes the repairs for the crews in the field. A broken machine based inside a stadium with a concert that night might have priority over some random office building

The system also makes smart invenstory decisions based on the data it has collected from this machine and all of the others owned by this company, as well as data from outside sources. For instance, just because it's low on ice cream doesn't mean the system will place orders for more ice cream -- not if the weather is supposed to be cold for the next several days. It also takes into consideration other factors, such as popularity, when setting inventory levels, so the right amount of each snack is delivered to the truck for delivery each day. We humans don't have to think about all of this because the machines using the sensor data and built-in intelligence can make the right inventory decisions.

As a proof of concept, it's actually a pretty neat demonstration and it showed what happens when you take these individual technologies and mix them together to provide real business value.

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