Intel Cash Register Knows Who You Are, What You Want (Wired)


Asking the question: “Do you know who I am?” is not likely to score you any points at the store, even in these trying economic times. But Intel wants to change that with a proof of concept cash register that knows not only who you are, but also what you want. The prototype till, to be unveiled Monday at the National Retail Federation show in New York, aims to bring Amazon-style recommendations to the meatspace market.

Though Intel conceived of the machine, it’s not getting into the point of sale business. This prototype won’t go into production. Instead, it is meant to highlight a new direction for retail terminals — made possible (naturally) by the chipmaker’s newest processors. “We wanted to show the future,” says Ryan Parker, of Intel’s Embedded Computing Division. “And people don’t like looking at motherboards.”

For help wrapping up its silicon, Intel turned to Frog Design, the San Francisco-based outfit known for both objects (Apple IIc) and interfaces ( Frog took a depressing look at “modern” machines — which average five years old — and came up with a concept that replaces today’s haphazard agglomeration of cash-box, signature pad and barcode scanner with a triple-touchscreen aluminum altar of lights that looks like a pinball machine from the Holodeck.

Two vertical screens function as kiosks, baiting you with ads and promotions. Flash an RFID store loyalty card, and your purchase history pops up — along with recommendations for what you might buy today. At checkout time, the salesperson brings the counter screen to life with their badge; images of your items materialize. So do related products for the salesperson to talk up, and hopefully sell you.

The goal is to combine the marketable social possibilities of shopping in the real world with the Web’s ability to up-sell. But touch panels and next-gen processors don’t come cheap. A machine like this is expected to cost far more than the typical black box, so Intel had to be ready with some of up-selling of its own: energy savings. Today’s registers draw up to 250 watts and are typically left on 24/7 to receive inventory info. The prototype uses more efficient screens LCD screens and processors, but more importantly, it goes to sleep as soon as a salesperson walks away. (It can be remotely awakened for updates and diagnostics). All told, Intel’s future machines will draw up to 90-percent less power. For a retail chain with 5,000 terminals, that’s a serious rebate.