Would you use a touchscreen vending machine that included personalization and game dynamics?

Last year, a new Japanese vending machine technology made its rounds on the Internet as another innovative, if not creepy, application of personalization. The video below shows the machine in action.

When a customer steps up to the 47″ LCD screen to order a drink, a camera identifies the customer’s gender and age. Based on that information, the display highlights the options it has been programmed to suggest to that demographic as most desirable.

When the videos first hit the web, many folks commented that profiling customer demographics in order to influence buying seemed an invasion of privacy. However, perhaps this reaction is due to the fact that the machine only uses age and gender. Just a couple modifications would make the interface much more useful.

What if, instead of using a camera, the machine used near field communication (NFC) to recognize a customer’s phone (or even the payment card seen in the video)? Your phone could include data you’ve added such as your personal preference for drinks and snacks, dietary restrictions, or weight loss and nutrition goals. Then the choices would truly be customized to you.

Let’s take it one step further and introduce a gaming aspect of vending machines. What if the machine communicated with your phone to link to a social network where you earned points for good choices in vending machine food and drink (is there such a thing?). When you selected an option, perhaps the screen would display the nutrition information (Pokemon trading-card style?). Drinks could be represented by characters, each with their own strengths (caffeine, calories, vitamins/minerals).

Undoubtedly, high-calorie soft drink and snack manufacturers would work to prevent such a system. On the other hand, it might help them determine what customers really wanted. What if customers were awarded points for trying a new drink?

The “gamification” introduced in so areas of life combined with the advent of NFC could soon have a profound impact on industries as seemingly insignificant as vending machines.

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