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Issue Date: Vol. 53, No. 3, March 2013, Posted On: 2/28/2013

Bsquare Leads Hardware And Software Integration For Costa Express Vending Machine

Tim Sanford
TAGS: Costa Coffee, vending machine, coffee machine, Costa Express CEM-200, interactive gourmet coffee vending system, Intel smart vending, Bsquare Corp., Mark Whiteside, self-service hot beverage kiosk, touchscreen, Scott Martin

SEARCH TERM BELLEVUE, WA -- The Costa Express CEM-200 interactive gourmet coffee vending system that has gained fame as an example of Intel Corp.'s "smart vending" concept also showcases the capabilities of Bsquare Corp. Bellevue, WA-based Bsquare served as lead integrator for the project, which was unveiled at the Intel Corp. exhibit during the 2013 National Retail Federation show in New York City. | SEE STORY

"We were brought in for our expertise in embedded design projects with Microsoft, Intel and other vendors," said Mark Whiteside, Bsquare's senior vice-president of professional services. He reported that Bsquare built the user interface, integrated the operating system with the hardware and created a cloud-based back office management system in less than six months.

Coffee Express is a self-service hot beverage kiosk conceived by Costa Coffee (Dunstable, England), the leading operator of coffeehouses in the UK. The machine offers patrons an "immersive" vending experience by means of a high-definition touchscreen that dominates the store-facing side of the machine. A small adjacent camera covers the area around the vender, delivering images to Intel's AIM (Audience Impression Metric) Suite technology for interpretation. The system reacts when it detects a passerby's eyes turning to the CEM-200, and the machine immediately changes the presentation displayed on the screen to engage the onlooker.

"Our existing concessions are hugely successful in the channels where we currently operate, and the CEM-200 will now enable us to offer great espresso drinks to customers in new channels and markets," said Costa Express managing director Scott Martin.

The principal embedded design challenge for Bsquare in integrating the hardware and software was to make the system operate as quickly and responsively as possible.

"The machine is incredibly responsive," Bsquare's Whiteside said. "You touch an element on the screen and it responds very quickly. The software overlays multiple video assets and performs dynamic animation to illustrate the process of brewing a fresh cup of coffee, while simultaneously rendering video to create the atmosphere of an Italian café."

Costa estimates that the out-of-home coffee market at present is around $28.5 billion a year, and it's growing quickly. Competition is particularly strong in Europe, which has the highest coffee consumption and concentration of retail outlets. According to the company, the CEM-200 leapfrogs existing coffee vending technologies by producing better coffee and giving customers an engaging, immersive experience.

The new machine is slated to supplant existing venders in the Costa Express program, which has made Costa the UK's leading self-service espresso bar provider with 2,500 sites. Costa Express installations predominantly are in large retail establishments and highway rest stops at present; plans call for expanding the service to other kinds of location. The machines grind and brew the same coffee beans as are used in Costa retail coffee shops, and employ fresh milk to produce premium specialty coffee beverages. Vend prices start at £1.95 (about $3 U.S.).

The CEM-200 was developed by a formidable international team of experts. The cabinet was conceived by renowned Italian design firm Pininfarina; the coffee machine components are manufactured by Swiss coffee equipment vendor Thermoplan, and include graphics from Atomhawk, best known for its work on Harry Potter movie graphics. The audio system comes from from eMixpro, sound mixers for U2, the Killers and Snow Patrol. The CEM-200 also includes olfactory components, dispersing a subtle aroma suggestive of a coffeehouse during the vend cycle.

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