'Smart' vending machines triple sales -

A vending machine in Japan which recommends drinks to customers based on facial recognition data has tripled sales.

JR East Water Business has previously installed two vending machines in JR Shinagawa station and it is believed that the recognition technology is responsible for a vast increase in sales in comparison to traditional machines.

The vending machines recommend beverages after physical attributes of customers are picked up by sensors which allow the machines determine age, sex and other attributes, before offering a number of suggestions. 

A male consumer, according to Nikkei (subscription), may be shown images of canned coffee due to customer research, which will be displayed on the 47 inch touchscreen monitor before reverting to a normal vending machine display.

Quite how customers react to being recommended three diet beverages based on the vending machine’s judgemental leer is unclear, but the idea of a catty, bitchy machine is certainly intriguing.  

As the technology becomes more commonplace we can expect to see plenty more chubby commuters crying into their skinny lattes while waiting for a train, too afraid or unable to argue with the machine's decision.  

The technology will also allow for recommendations to be altered due to temperature conditions and time of day.

The vending machine will now be rolled out in Tokyo Station, with five machines to be installed near the Shinkansen bullet train and near ticket gates.  If the vending machine continues to attract as much business it is hope that 500 machines will be installed in Tokyo and three prefectures which will account for 12 percent of the network by March 2012. 

Existing vending machines in Chiba and Saitama are expected to switch to the new technology by the end of the year in the country where a bizarre range of products are sold within machines - notably girls underwear, sake and even live crabs.

But the new technology offers some frightening prospects. With machines telling us what to drink how long until we are told what to eat and what to wear?  The idea of a 1984-style Big Brother state fronted by the double-headed hydra that is a computerised Trinny and Susanna is almost too scary.

As well as advertising products it is also noted that the machines could be useful in other applications such as gathering sales data for promotional activities.