The Intel coffee machine that puts a face to a drink

15 Jan 2013

We find out how Intel's high-end processor is powering a face-detecting coffee machine

Intel's top-end Core i7 processor is being used in Costa Coffee's latest coffee machines - not to brew hot drinks, but for real-time facial analysis.

That may sound a bit much for a drinks dispenser, but Intel says the machines are part of the coffee firm's strategy to offer customised choices to customers.

The first-generation machines are already being used in supermarkets, offices and other locations where a full coffee shop isn't possible, and Costa hopes to further its reach by installing 10,000 updated versions.

We spoke to Michelle Tinsley, director of Intel's Retail Solutions Division, to find out more - and to find out why a Core i7 is necessary to make a hot drink.

Q. Where did the idea for this come from?

A. This is actually a second-generation machine. Intel's chips are also in the first generation, which has been deployed in 2,500 locations in Europe, such as Tesco in the UK. Costa wanted to upgrade the machine to engage customers even better.

This platform pulls in all five senses... it’s visually very attractive, and has an HD screen split into two zones, so it shows the Costa logo and an has an 'attract loop' that pulls people in.

When it detects a human is standing there, it will switch to the menus and you can start ordering your coffee. As you’re selecting through your coffee, you hear the sights and sounds of a barista in the background, the clinking of cups and the grinding of beans - and this is actually the grinding of your coffee - and then you get the smell of those beans from a little smell vent. And the touch is the touchscreen interaction, and the taste is of course the coffee you get at the end.

Q. There's also a video analytics system - what does that do?

A. This product is software as a service, and it's audience detection software. It recognises the shape of a human face and sees two eyes looking at the optical centre. Basically, the product calculates distances between key features on the human face – eyes, ears, bridge of nose, that sort of thing.

And, based on machine learning from other photos, it comes back with a decision between male and female, and four age buckets you would fit into - but never takes a photo, never takes any video, not even for a second. It basically does very quick maths on the shape of a face.

Q. What's the purpose of such analytics?

A. It's helping Costa... know who its demographic is and who it's serving. At different locations they're reaching different types of people, and it helps Costa understand which flavours are selling to which demographic.

It used to be that companies would use product as a proxy for their demographic information, now they’re going to go straight to the source. Now, [it can see] if the consumer is female or male that’s ordering that vanilla latte, and which age bracket, and Costa sees that as very useful information.

Q. In terms of hardware, what does the machine run?

A. An Intel Core i7 processor runs the platform, whether it be the digital signage in the front that attracts people, or playing the media and sounds, and keeping it secure at all times. If you’re charging [for the drinks] there’s a PIN pad and an NFC tap pad.

Q. A Core i7 is Intel's high-end chip - is that really necessary for a coffee machine?

A. That one chip is basically running the functionality of the entire process. The Intel AIM [retail software] runs on anything Core i5 or better - it technically could run on an i3 - but the issue would be if you’re also trying to show videos or rich media on digital signage, you’re going to see erosion of the quality.

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