Google Running Vending Machines on the Cloud?

Posted @ Jun 07 2017 by

Google Cloud-based Vending

Jennifer Slegg, from the SEM Post, pointed me to this page about Google vending machines: Get a free travel item.  I found it really interesting, as I didn’t know that Google was running vending machines in airports and giving away free stuff at them.  It looks something like this:

But, I’m questioning whether those vending machines are the impetus behind a new patent from Google, which appears to be aimed at providing more cloud-based services from the search engine.

Shifting Business Models at Google?

For all Google does and different lines of business they have, they still make the vast majority of their money from showing advertisements which accompany search results. They’re continually working to diversify themselves:  self-driving cars, business services, hardware, etc.

One of their new approaches involves providing cloud-based services to customers. We see Google working to make their services on the cloud more attractive to potential clients, including new technology to benefit machine learning optimized technology, as we saw described recently with a Google Research Blog post from a couple of weeks ago, titled, Introducing the TensorFlow Research Cloud. To better understand the competition in providing cloud-based services, there are a lot of articles that describe it, such as Who wins the three-way cloud battle? Google vs. Azure vs. AWS.

A patent was granted to Google today at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), on a way to run Vending Machines in the Cloud.

I’m not sure how big of an opportunity it might be to patent cloud-based vending machines. I did find an article on the Coca-Cola site from February of 2015, called 16 Things You Didn’t Know About Vending Machines in Japan and Around the World, which tells us that there are more than 6.9 million vending machines in the US at the end of 2010, and more than 3.8 million as the publication of that article. Those are filled with more than just bottles of Coca-Cola. I’m not sure if this cloud-based approach is something that is.

The description for the patent introduces it like this:

According to one general aspect, a computer-implemented method can include receiving, at a computing device, a beacon signal including a vending device identifier and sending, to a cloud-based vending service, the vending device identifier. The method can also include receiving, from the cloud-based vending service, an indication of at least one product available for purchase from the vending device and receiving, at the computing device, an indication of a selected product of the at least one product available for purchase. The method can further include sending, to the cloud based service, a request to purchase the selected product and receiving, from the cloud-based vending service, a purchase token for the selected product. The method can still further include sending, to the vending device, the purchase token and receiving, from the vending device, an acknowledgment that the purchase token has been used to purchase the selected product.

The technologies that appear to be involved here are things such as Bluetooth beacons and web pages that purchases can be made on (a very different setup than the project Fi vending machines in the video I embedded above.)

I do remember a couple of winters ago stopping at a rest stop in Maryland along Route 95 a little north of the beltway around Washington, DC, and seeing a number of beverage vending machines that accepted Android pay.  At the time I ended up pretty disappointed as I tried to use it but it turned out it wasn’t yet functioning. Since I didn’t have any change or currency on me, using Android pay would have been the only way I could have purchased something to drink. Fortunately, they did have a water fountain.

The patent granted to Google is:

Cloud-based vending
Inventors: Roy Want, Scott Arthur Jenson, William Noah Schilit
Assignee: GOOGLE INC
US Patent: 9,666,013
Granted: May 30, 2017
Filed: September 29, 2015

Abstract

In a general aspect, a computer-implemented method can include receiving, at a computing device, a beacon signal including a vending device identifier and sending, to a cloud-based vending service, the vending device identifier. The method can further include receiving, from the cloud-based vending service, an indication of at least one product available for purchase from the vending device and receiving, at the computing device, an indication of a selected product of the at least one product available for purchase. The method can also include sending, to the cloud-based service, a request to purchase the selected product and receiving, from the cloud-based vending service, a purchase token for the selected product. The method can still further include sending, to the vending device, the purchase token and receiving, from the vending device, an acknowledgment that the purchase token has been used to purchase the selected product.

The patent does tell us that one of the advantages of providing cloud-based vending is:

Such approaches allow a consumer to make a cloud-based vending purchase from such a vending machine without the vending machine having a dedicated Internet or data network connection. Such approaches can be financially advantageous for an operator (owner) of the vending machine, as providing a dedicated Internet (or data network) connection in the vending machine can be cost prohibitive (e.g., due to profit margins of vending machine sales).

It sounds like this would make it possible to offer vending machines in more places, without having to provide the infrastructure necessary to connect a machine to a network. I could see this being convenient.

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