Cooler Inventory Management

Cooler Inventory Management

May 26, 2016

I previously posted about the Spring Georgia Tech Capstone Expo, and today I am starting a series of posts providing a more in-depth look at individual projects. I’ll start with Team Polar Bears since I recently posted on the topic of IoT. In my previous post about IoT Smart Home, I discussed my own Smart Home system that I set up in 2011 on Z-Wave technology. This was way before Smart Home became available at my local hardware store.

The Polar Bears team developed a Coca-Cola Cooler Inventory Management System with cameras, proximity sensors, and UV barcodes to remotely notify when there are only 2 cans left to reduce out-of-stock situations. Here’s a short video about their project:

I showed this video to my colleague Steve Youngblood, VP of Product Management, (regular blogger on Amazon’s Alexa), and his first reaction was, “What if you could talk to your refrigerator and say, “Refrigerator, how much milk do I have left?” I immediately rebuffed him and said, “I would never say that to my refrigerator, I would just open the door and look inside for the milk.” I then reconsidered, and realized that I needed to know the answer to that question just 2 days ago when I was at the grocery store (not while I was standing in front of my refrigerator). Humans are creatures of immediate gratification. Most of us find it challenging to take inventory of our refrigerator, make a list of items we need, and then only purchase items on that list. I find grocery shopping a more spontaneous effort that includes impulse purchases; I tried the organized way once and found it completely boring.

Back to the Polar Bears project that kept track of inventory by Coke product type. When only 2 cans of a particular type of coke product were left, the cooler sent a notification to the store manager to prompt a refill of the cooler.

Push vs. Pull

Flashback to 2006 when I was working at Cingular and someone had to explain to me that IoT would be devices communicating with each other via bits and bytes without humans on 2 ends of a voice call. Correction, the IoT term didn’t come out until much later (circa 2010); in 2006, we called this concept Machine-to-Machine (M2M). The first example of IoT ever provided to me was my refrigerator sending a text message to me alerting me that milk was low in my refrigerator. Honestly, I was a bit offended. I certainly didn’t want my refrigerator calling the shots. I’m in-charge of my milk consumption! On the flip side, when I am at the grocery store, I want to know what items I am running low on that I need to replenish, but without making a list ahead of time.

What would you prefer?

Push – Text message when your milk is out-of-stock
Pull– Check milk inventory on a mobile app on your phone

I have no doubt that there are solutions today / near future tomorrow where I would be able to buy a refrigerator with cameras, proximity sensors, and UV barcodes synced with a mobile app for refrigerator inventory management. Would I be willing to pay a subscription fee for such a service? hmmm

Would a retailer partner with an IoT vendor to offer this technology in conjunction with their home delivery service? i.e. Out-of-milk situation at home -> push notification to retailer -> Milk is delivered to my home (along with a few other impulse purchases I approved on my mobile app).

I don’t want my refrigerator to text me about the problem (out-of-milk); I need a smart retailer to text me with the solution (home delivery of milk tonight at 7 PM).