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Jell-O vending machine knows your age; critics say it may know more

by Kristen Kellar
Feb 01, 2012

Jello machine

Kristen Kellar/MEDILL

The TEMPTATIONS by Jell-O Diji-Taste machine scans users determining if they are adults before dispensing a sample.

A machine lights up and begins scanning your body as you stand in front of it. It determines your general height, measures your facial features and estimates your age, all to get a sample of Jell-O.

Welcome to the new world of vending machines.

The TEMPTATIONS by Jell-O Diji-Taste machine was created by Kraft Foods Inc. of Northfield. It uses Intel Corp.’s Anonymous Viewer Analytics, and only supplies samples if it deems the user an adult.

“It was extremely popular. There were definitely guests who were waiting in line to use the machine,” said Libby Joyce, spokeswoman at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. Shedd was one of two locations chosen to test the machine.

An optical sensor within the machine determines who gets a sample. “It recognizes the shape of the face and does math to determine the space between facial features,” said Michelle Tinsley, general manager of the personal-solutions division at Intel.

Along with facial measurements the machine determines the consumer’s height, and places the person into one of four age categories.

If someone who falls into the children category is near the machine, it shuts down and doesn’t turn on until the child leaves.

However, when adults come forward, they are given the opportunity to get one of many Jell-O Temptations samples.

The point of the test isn’t so much to keep kids from eating Jell-O, as it is to attract and learn about consumers who are interested in lower-calorie snacks, according to an email and other material from Kraft.

Critics of the machine, say the AVA software may lead to a machine that is too intrusive in people’s lives. “While the company might not be serving up every invasive possibility of the new Jell-O machine this time around, who knows what the future holds. This is just a taste of what’s to come,” said Liz McIntyre, consumer privacy expert and co-author of “Spychips.”

The basic principle that the new machine runs on is digital signage, one form of advertising, McIntyre said. She pointed to an Intel data sheet about its AVA software that says, “AVA can: track how many viewers and how long they viewed, gauge audience interest …”

A backgrounder from Kraft says, “We can do so much more with the iSampling Experience platform.”

That “hits the nail on the head,” said McIntyre, arguing that Kraft’s selling point supports her privacy worries.

Ed Kaczmarek, director of innovation for consumer experiences at Kraft, said the machine allows the company to see “who has interacted with the machine, how long the experience lasted and what sample they chose.”

Based on the information, such as age range and gender, Kraft is able to customize the way it interacts with consumers, he added.

Tinsley stressed that while the machine scans the person in front of it, “there’s no picture ever taken, no video ever recorded.”

Still, McIntyre is skeptical of such claims: “While companies might promise to either anonymize images or not store them, how will we know if their policies change?”

While at Shedd, the Diji-Taste, which holds 350 to 400 items, was refilled daily, said Joyce. On busy days, it was restocked twice. Temptations by Jell-O are 150-or-less calorie snacks marketed toward adults.

“I would say Strawberry Cheesecake, French Silk and Double Chocolate were the most popular,” she added.

The Jell-O Diji-Taste isn’t the first high-tech vending machine Kraft has developed.

In 2009, the Diji-Touch Vending Machine debuted. It added a touch screen interface to the traditional vending machine. Also, in 2011, the Cadbury Diji-Taste Experience that included a game to play while waiting for Cadbury samples, Kaczmarek said.

Kraft’s next step is to place the machine is inside or near stores, he said.

“We strongly believe that the Diji-Taste experience can drive awareness, interest, increase basket size and lead to incremental shopping trips,” he added.

While new locations have not been finalized, Tinsley said that consumers might see the machines soon.

Due to Kraft’s ideas on where to place the machine, Joyce said Shedd would not be a permanent home for it.

Shedd often does product tasting, but it normally involves staff. Joyce said, that either way, “it was definitely a very unique experience.”