The Internet of Things (IoT) is enabling a new generation of intelligent vending machines that can increase sales by making the vending experience more personal and fun. The IoT can also improve operations and unlock new business models by connecting by vending machines to cloud services and data analytics (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Intelligent IoT vending machines create new opportunities for operational efficiencies and expanded business models.
To help bring intelligent vending machines to market, Intel recently announced the Intel® Reference Design for Intelligent Vending. This comprehensive reference design can reduce time to market, simplify design, and help manufacturers take advantage of the latest cloud and computing technologies. What’s more, companies like Advantech, a Premier member of the Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance (Intel® IoT Solutions Alliance), are integrating this reference design into a variety of system-level solutions that further accelerate and simplify the design process.
Intel® Reference Design for Intelligent Vending
Vending machines typically use a vending machine controller (VMC) to manage subsystems, such as payment, refrigeration, lighting control, and coin and product handling. This VMC is usually based on a low-end microcontroller with limited computing power and little or no support for networking, security, or manageability. These limitations make it difficult to connect a vending machine to the Internet or add advanced services like loyalty programs or in-machine video advertising.
The Intel Reference Design for Intelligent Vending solves this problem by moving VMC functionality to a PC-based computing platform with significantly greater capabilities. Vending machines based on the reference design can:
- Collect sensor and sales data to provide operators and advertisers with more insight on everything from machine health and inventory to sales and advertising effectiveness.
- Automate and streamline business operations by enabling connection of machines to corporate systems, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and central pricing.
- Support new transactions models, including smart phones using near field communications (NFC) and other contactless payment methods.
- Use touch screens, HD video, multimedia displays, and social media services such as location awareness to entice purchases and help buyers make informed selections
As shown in Figure 2, the reference design details the hardware and software components required to retrofit existing machines or build new ones.
Figure 2. The Intel® Reference Design for Intelligent Vending includes a compute system, APIs, and a VMI.
These components include:
- Compute System: An Intel® processor-based platform replaces the VMC, providing machines with the computing power for advanced emerging services, as well as wired Ethernet or broadband wireless connectivity. The reference design provides a choice of Intel® Core™, Intel® Atom™, and Intel® Quark™ processors. These processors span a tremendous range of compute and graphics capabilities, from quad-core brutes with 4K Ultra-HD graphics to the tiny 1.5 W Intel Quark processors, giving developers highly scalable options to address a wide range of markets.
- I/O Interface Model: Today’s vending machines use a wide range of bus protocols (such as CAN, ccTALK, MDB, and USB) to communicate between the VMC and such machine peripherals as control mechanics and note readers. The reference design specifies a VMI board that supports these I/O interfaces and new ones, enabling the addition of new capabilities and services. Companies can buy these I/O interface modules “off the shelf” from companies such as Advantech, or request a customized version.
- Application Layer: The reference design’s software stack includes an operating system, programming interfaces (APIs) to machine peripherals, and various applications. The software architecture of the reference design abstracts the vending I/O, allowing vending machine manufacturers to concentrate on high level applications and what is displayed on the screen. This is achieved through two types of APIs: a low-level API (LLAPI) for accessing specific vending IO protocols and a high-level API (HLAPI) for accessing a type of peripheral without requiring programmers to know the particulars for the actual device.
From a systems perspective, the Intel Reference Design for Intelligent Vending addresses five main machine functions (Figure 3).
Vending peripheral control is handled by the reference design’s VMI board. The other main functions – connectivity and telemetry, user interface, machine management, and payment flexibility – are carried out by applications running on an Intel processor-based computing platform. This enables the majority of machine functionality to be software-based and flexible so machines can more easily evolve over time.
Using the Reference Design to Meet Manufacturer Needs
Companies like Advantech are rapidly adopting the reference design, integrating it into solutions that include boards, embedded PCs, and integrated touch-screen computers. Examples of these solutions include:
- UTC-520E: This ubiquitous touch computer based on the Intel® Core™ i5-3400U processor provides an all-in-one design equipped with a 21.5" wide format LCD panel (Figure 4). The system makes it easy to integrate key peripherals and its integrated Intel® HD Graphics powers up to three displays for advanced interactive signage and self service systems.
- UTX-3115: This fanless, wide-temperature embedded computer features an Intel® Atom™ processor E3826. Designed as an Intel® Gateway Solutions for Internet of Things (Intel® Gateway Solutions for IoT), the box features a pre-integrated software and hardware platform containing a Linux* operating system, and integrated security and management features from Wind River and McAfee. The solution simplifies connecting vending machine sensors to the IoT through Wi-Fi and even 4G technologies for secure data aggregation, filtering, and analysis in the cloud.
- AIMB-215 and Advantech Industrial Display Kits: The AIMB-215 is a Mini-ITX board based on Intel® Celeron® processor J1900/N2920. Connected to an Advantech industrial grade LCD display IDK series (5.7" to 21.5"), it delivers a fanless, durable solution for IoT vending machines.
Figure 4. The Advantech UTC-520E is a 21.5” ubiquitous touch computer that can provide an enticing interface for IoT vending machines.
In addition to offering these products as Intel Reference Design for Intelligent Vending solutions, Advantech can provide the necessary VMI boards and customized design services. These services make it even easier for manufacturerk,s to quickly introduce industry-leading IoT vending solutions. For instance, Advantech can help manufacturers take advantage of Advantech SUSIAccess, a preloaded Linux-based innovative remote device management and system recovery software. In combination with Intel® Active Management Technology (Intel® AMT) – available with many Intel Core processors – and Clickatell’s SMS gateway service, SUSIAccess 2.1 enables more efficient remote management, monitoring, and maintenance to reduce total cost of ownership.
Take Vending to the Next Level
These are exciting times for the vending machine industry. With the Intel Reference Design for Intelligent Vending, vending machine manufacturers can bring IoT vending solutions to market faster and keep their products on the forefront of innovation. Now excuse me – a nearby vending machine has just alerted my smart phone that it has my favorite snack.
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Solutions in this blog:
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance
Associate Editor, Embedded Innovator magazine