These Walgreens Freezers Are Spying on You

Marc Fizer, YouTube
Marc Fizer, YouTube

Shopping in a public place shouldn't carry with it any expectations of privacy. Your shopping card collects data. Your credit card company knows what you're buying. Store cameras make sure you're not shoplifting. But would you expect the freezer to profile you according to your age or gender?

That's coming, and sooner than you think. At a Walgreens location in New York City, Fast Company reporter Katharine Schwab recently examined the possible future of retail customization and had a face-to-screen encounter with a cooler door that makes recommendations based on who happens to be staring into it. Instead of being see-through glass, the doors look more like slot machines—bright and vivid rows of ice cream, food, and beverage options. Using cameras, motion sensors, and eye-tracking, the door's display shifts its focus to target specific demographics.

A woman looking at the cooler might see an ad for Diet Coke, for example, while a man standing in the same spot a few minutes later could be directed to picking up a Coke Zero. Whether consumers see advertising for Red Bull or Gatorade might depend on their age. Time of day matters, too. If it's near dinnertime, maybe the screen will be nudging you toward a frozen pizza. If it's a scorching hot day, you’ll be directed to pints of ice cream.

Owing to the longstanding controversy regarding facial recognition software, the system only makes inferences about your appearance. It cannot take your photo and determine your identity, or that you've been in the store before. Instead, it analyzes your photo looking for facial characteristics and micro-measurements that sometimes correspond with age or gender.

Cooler Screens, the manufacturer behind the technology, has partnered with Walgreens locations to outfit six stores across the country with the displays to assess how consumers react to this kind of targeted promotion in the real world. If and when the practice spreads, questions are likely to follow. Does Cooler Screens store and share this data? (The company says it doesn't.) How deep does its gaze go? Will it recommend junk food to the heavyset and low-calorie options to slim figures? Will it make suggestions based on ethnicity? Will it report shoplifters to management?

For now, the Cooler Screens footprint is small, but there are some heavy hitters behind it. The startup was co-founded by former Argo Tea CEO Arsen Avakian and received financing from Microsoft. With the participating Walgreens locations reporting double-digit sales increases in freezer aisles, it may not be long before Big Freezer is watching you.

[h/t Fast Company]

The Reason Why Your Car’s Turn Signal Makes a Clicking Sound

Zmaj88, iStock / Getty Images Plus
Zmaj88, iStock / Getty Images Plus

The clicking of a turn signal ranks among the least-annoying sounds a car can make. Along with the flashing bulb behind the arrow in your car's dashboard, the gentle, rhythmic tick tick tick-ing tones are a sign that your blinker is working properly when you switch it on. Even as technology has progressed, this feature has remained a constant throughout generations of vehicles—or at least that's how it appears to drivers. According to Jalopnik, there's one thing that has changed, though: the actual source of that familiar sound.

The flashing turn signals began appearing in automobiles in the late 1930s when Buick made them standard in some models. Traditionally, the clicking sound is made via heat. Drivers would switch on their blinker, and the electricity would heat up a bimetallic spring in the car, causing it to bend until it made contact with a small strip of metal. When these two components connected, a current would pass through them and power the electric turn signal lights. The bimetallic spring quickly cooled down and returned to its original form, turning off the light, before the whole process started again to create a new flash. As the spring bent back and forth, it created a clicking sound.

The next evolution of turn signals used a similar trick, but instead of moving a spring due to heat, it sent the electronic pulse to an electromagnet via a chip. When activated, the electromagnet pulled up a metal armature and disconnected the current powering the light (or the opposite, depending on the relay setup). Without the pulse from the chip, the electromagnet turned off and the armature returned to old position and bridged the circuit providing power to the bulbs. As was the case with the thermal spring, the relay clicked every time it moved.

Up until recently, this was how most car turn signals functioned, but things have changed as cars have become more computerized. Many car manufactured today rely on computer commands to activate their turn signals, skipping processes that once produced the distinctive clicks. But the clicking sounds are something people grew up with, and drivers might be unsettled if they heard nothing after activating their blinkers. That's why the mechanical sound still exists in the computer era—even though in many modern cars, it's actually just being broadcast through the vehicle's audio system.

For a visual of how electronic flasher signal systems work in cars, check out the video below.

[h/t Jalopnik]

Sony Is Celebrating the Walkman’s 40th Birthday With a Retrospective Exhibition in Tokyo

Joost J. Bakker, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Joost J. Bakker, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Before the dawn of CD players, mp3 players, and iTunes, cassette tape players dominated the music scene. The Walkman was the most prolific among them, and as designboom reports, Sony is hosting a retrospective to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the gadget's debut.

The Walkman first appeared in stores in Japan on July 1, 1979—just a few months after Sony cofounder Masaru Ibuka (who had already retired at that point) asked Sony executives to create a lightweight cassette player that would allow him to listen to music on long flights. The product was an instant hit, helping make cassette tapes more popular than vinyl and introducing many consumers to portable, personal devices for the first time.

Four decades later, the Walkman is no longer the hottest music technology on the market, but its impact on the industry is undeniable. Sony's new exhibit, titled "#009 WALKMAN IN THE PARK 40 Years Since the Day the Music Walked," explores that legacy. At Ginza Sony Park in Tokyo's Ginza district, visitors can experience the exhibit in two parts. The first is "My Story, My Walkman," which features the stories of 40 celebrities whose lives were changed by the Walkman. The second section is a "Walkman Wall" where about 230 models of the Walkman, from the original cassette players to CD and MP3 players, are on display.

The exhibit opened on July 1, the Walkman's anniversary, and will continue through September 1. Anyone can explore the Tokyo retrospective for free from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

[h/t designboom]

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