I have to go to the grocery store. In the daylight, no less. I usually like to go to the grocery store late at night. There are fewer people there then and so I am able to move through the store more quickly. There is a downside. There are fewer cashiers at that hour so the last 20 feet can be very slow. I wish that the stores close to me had self checkouts. One of my favorite stores some distance away has both self checkout and customer hand held scanners to scan purchases as groceries are selected. This system which I have written about before makes for very fast easy shopping outings.
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Have you been to the grocery store lately? What a great place to see evolving technology. WIWAK(When I was a kid) cashiers did just that they handled cash. They read the price tag stickers on each item and manually punched the price into the cash register. Then came the widespread adoption of bar codes(UPC) and bar code scanners. Bits were associated with atoms. The codes don’t really have the price embedded in them like the ink on the little adhesive price tag, instead they merely tell the register (now a computer) what the item is. The computer runs a database that associates item codes (UPCs) with prices. WIWAK stock clerks had to manually re-price items when they were on sale. Now the price can simply be changed in the database and the shelf label. Labor savings. Then along come loyalty cards. These cards allow stores to reward loyal shoppers by reducing prices on select items when people use their loyalty cards. We all know that the system is tracking every purchase for marketing purposes. The store knows how many times a month or a year you buy milk. What you have for breakfast. Probably, the store knows a lot about your lifestyle. You recently started to buy diapers and baby formula = new baby in the house. You started buying larger diapers and baby food vs. formula = junior is growing up. Generally, people accept this info fog being emitted when they visit the store for the return they receive in the form of cost savings.
Now another tradeoff is being offered. A local store is testing a new system from Symbol Technologies. The Portable Shopping System offers users a basic trade. For the ability to send users targeted marketing messages while they shop suggesting companion products, competing products, special sale items, etc. the user realizes some time savings in the form of streamlined checkouts. Notice it’s a checkout not a cashier. The way it works is that users scan their loyalty card upon entering the store to release a handheld scanner from a rack. The game begins. Shoppers select, scan and bag their groceries as they move through the store. The device keeps track of scanned items and provides a running total of purchases. Periodically, messages appear on the screen. Scan cereal and the device reads "Need Milk?" When shopping is complete shoppers proceed to a self checkout machine and scan a final end of trip barcode. The central server records your order and associates it with your loyalty card. The "robotic checker" scans the loyalty card and the computer pulls up the order. Payment is made and the shopper exits the store with their self-bagged groceries.
Probably, the store now knows how long you spent in the store and possibly your route through the store and how long you spent in front of each shelf area. Yes, it is possible for the wireless technology that powers this system to triangulate the location of the handheld scanners. It’s not clear that the system includes these features at this time, however, future versions may include these features.
The Bottom Line.
This is a continuation of the development of sentient environments where information is attached, gathered and broadcast by physical items in our environment. In the next few years the technology will only become stronger and disappear into the walls, floors and ceilings around us. Manufacturers are close to being able to literally print RFID (radio frequency identity tags) tags on the packaging of their products. When this happens the "scanner" will be built into the handle of the shopping cart. Items will be added to your bill when they are placed in the cart. "Check out" that is totally invisible and transparent to the shopper. The cart gets your payment card info from the chip in your watch. The larger point is that the cloud of information surrounding the individual of the near future will be ever present and ever expanding. Your environment will know and tell your secrets. Oh, and your kitchen computer will know what you brought home from the grocery store. It will hear it from your car that red all those RFID tags on the drive home. But it’s OK because the computer knows that you bought everything you need to make your favorite recipe for dinner tonight.
It’s gonna be a great future!
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