ViaTouch Media’s Vicki Boosts Interactivity Using Artificial Intelligence

Tom MurnTom Murn, a longtime vending operator turned vending technology entrepreneur, will showcase the latest version of his Vicki machine at the upcoming NAMA OneShow in Las Vegas. The Vicki utilizes artificial intelligence to enable a more interactive customer experience.

Murn, owner of the Answer Group, a Farmingdale, New York based vending, micro market and refreshment services provider, introduced an earlier version of his machine at last year’s NAMA OneShow. The machine has since been upgraded based on input from last year’s OneShow, and will be available for purchase this June, according to ViaTouch Media, the company Murn formed to build and distribute the machine.

The Vicki allows shoppers to take products from a shelf and examine them before making a purchase. When a customer takes a product from the machine, a video screen above the machine’s door automatically plays content related to the product.

Multiple Capabilities

Vicky Automated Vending MachineThe machine’s audio technology allows the customer to ask questions and get answers about products. If the customer takes the product, sensors embedded in the shelf activate a payment from the customer’s account.

Payment can be made via credit card, thumbprint or mobile app.

According to Murn, the machine will even be able to read sign language.

Vicki was on display at the recent CES show in Las Vegas in the Voxx Advanced Solutions Corporation booth. The Vicki uses Voxx’s iris authentication technology to recognize and authenticate the customer, The machine learns the customer’s preferences and makes suggestions, serving as a virtual clerk.

Vicki also uses directed audio technology to communicate with customers in a highly personalized manner. A camera in the machine detects where the consumer is standing, enabling the audio system to direct beams of sound to the customer.

A speaker array embedded in the machine below the monitor screen calibrates the audio beams to a tight sound envelope that creates a personalized, transactional area in front of the machine, according to Paul O’Callaghan, senior vice president of sales for Comhear, which provides the audio technology.

The sound directed to the consumer will not be heard by other people in the area, according to James Winsor, ViaTouch Media’s chief technology officer and IoT director.

The location can program the audio to meet its specific needs. It can be programmed, for instance, to ask the customer if they would like to know the day’s special offers.

The Vicki will operate under multiple approved and pending patents, including AI, at the POS level.

The software can be integrated with existing vending management and micro market software.

Murn has tested the machine at a number of corporate accounts, such as Goldman Sachs, Marriott, Home Depot and others.

The companies testing the Vicki are mostly managing food and gifts for employees, customers and, depending on the location, the public.

Murn’s refreshment services company, the Answer Group, based in Farmingdale, New York, is one of the largest vending operations in the metro New York City area.

Murn said he expects the Vicki’s product mix to be 60 percent food and 40 percent higher ticket items like electronics, gifts, pocket books, glasses and cosmetics.

He plans to market the machines directly to retailers. He envisions retailers leasing the machines to product suppliers to vend specific types of merchandise.

Versatile Service Options

Customer locations will be able to service the machines on their own, aided by service materials provided by ViaTouch Media. There will be a servicing app available, along with a consumer app that shoppers will use to make purchases from the machine.

ViaTouch Media will also have its own service technicians to handle a customer’s service needs.

Customers can also choose to work with third party vending operators.

The machines will be available for purchase from the company’s Dallas, Texas distribution center in June, Winsor said. In the meantime, the company will be taking orders at this month’s NAMA OneShow.

The machine will sell for about $10,000, according to Murn.

Murn said he has invested $7 million of his own money in the project and has received as much as $5 million from friends and employees.

ViaTouch Media recently raised $10 million in venture capital from a private equity fund.

Murn has been active in developing vending technology for many years.

In the mid 1990s, he was involved in a company called Remote Vend Data Inc., one of the first remote machine monitoring systems. The Answer Group was also among the first vending companies to deploy cashless vending and guaranteed product delivery on a large scale.

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