Apple has Siri. Amazon has Alexa. This summer Tom Murn will have Vicki, a vending machine endowed with artificial intelligence that will be popping up in college cafeterias, drugstores, hospital waiting rooms and offices around town, and could change the way New Yorkers shop. Shaped like an iPhone but as big as a refrigerator, the device will neither take coins or cash nor drop a bag of potato chips into a slot. Users will instead open its glass door by way of an iris scan, a fingerprint impression or a phone or a credit card swipe and take a product off a shelf. The price will immediately appear on a screen above the door—and disappear if the product is put back down.
An ad for the item also might play on the screen. If shoppers have questions, Vicki will provide answers—as they try on sunglasses, wonder if a cookie is gluten-free or consider buying a high-tech toy they don’t know how to work. Vicki will even make hard-to-refuse offers, like suggesting a bottle of water—at half price—to go with a sandwich. Shutting the door completes the sale, with the customer being charged for the item(s).
“This is so much more than a vending machine,” said Murn, 51. “You can pick up [a product] and put it back. [The machine] can pull information from Facebook and say, ‘Happy birthday.’ It can do rewards. You can’t do any of that with a vending machine.”