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]

This E-Ink Android Tablet Feels Like Real Paper

Tablets are designed to make life more convenient: They let you take notes, play games, and surf the web from a device the size of a notebook. But even in the digital age, some people have trouble letting go of the old-school feeling of pen and paper. With E-PAD, a new e-ink Android tablet, you don't have to choose between one or the other.

The E-PAD e-ink tablet debuted on Kickstarter on March 26, and with a little over a week to go in its crowdfunding campaign, it's already raised over $340,000. The WiFi-connected and 4G-compatible gadget has the same features as a conventional tablet: You can use it to play music, read e-books, and send emails. But when you want to sketch or write something, E-PAD offers something most tablets can't.

Using your finger or the stylus, you can treat E-PAD like a real paper notebook. The glare-free surface of the screen mimics the texture of paper, giving you the same friction you'd get from scribbling something on a page. The display is sensitive enough to detect the pressure of your hand and adjust your pen strokes accordingly. Whether you're writing a to-do list, signing your name, or sketching a self-portrait, the device translates your unique style into a digital document.

Writing in an E-PAD also has some advantages over using a notebook. If you make a mistake you can undo it just like you would in a word processor—or redo it if you change your mind. You can also use the tablet to jot down notes directly onto digital texts, like e-books and legal documents. And if you prefer writing out notes by hand but can't decode your own handwriting, the E-PAD will convert your words to text.

The E-PAD is set to retail for $699, but it's currently available on Kickstarter for $449. You can pledge to the campaign now to receive it in August of this year.

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LEGO's New SPIKE Prime Is Designed to Teach Kids Coding and Confidence

LEGO Education
LEGO Education

LEGO isn’t just a company that makes cool toys (though it does that in spades). The company also has an education arm that brings LEGOs into the classroom. And its latest release is designed to give kids a lesson in more than just brick-based engineering. SPIKE Prime provides lessons in coding, hands-on building, and—most important of all—confidence.

Aimed at middle school classrooms, SPIKE Prime features LEGO bricks, a programmable hub that can control sensors and motors, and an app where kids can learn to code the functions that will be performed by their LEGO creation. The app, which uses the block-based Scratch coding language, features a variety of lesson plans for teachers, each one designed to be completed in a 45-minute period.

The LEGO creations themselves are relatively easy to put together—they’re designed to take 10 to 20 minutes apiece—so that kids can focus on the coding and experimentation they’re supposed to do rather than putting together bricks. (This also helps kids feel more free to break apart their prototypes and try again, since they didn’t spend an hour putting the original model together.) However, unlike many coding toys aimed at teaching kids computer science skills, the lessons are designed to be facilitated by a teacher, rather than being self-led by students.

A LEGO Spike Prime build
Spike Prime's "Break Dance Model"
LEGO Education

One of the main goals of SPIKE Prime isn’t just to teach kids STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) skills. It’s also to help them build confidence in those areas by teaching them to problem-solve, prototype, and experiment. According to a LEGO-commissioned poll of more than 5000 students, 5000 parents, and 1150 teachers in five countries, fewer than one in five students feels “very confident” about their STEAM abilities. Half of the students surveyed said trying new things in school makes them nervous. “With SPIKE Prime and the lessons featured in the SPIKE app, these children will be inspired to experiment with different solutions, try new things and ultimately become more confident learners,” LEGO Education president Esben Stærk Jørgensen said in a press release.

SPIKE Prime comes with 523 pieces, most of which build on the beams and gears offered by the more advanced LEGO Technic line. Some pieces, however, are entirely new LEGO elements that merge some of the functions of Technic pieces with regular LEGO bricks, like traditional-looking rectangular bricks that also work with Technic axles.

LEGO plans to work with local teachers to release the SPIKE Prime system across the world, in 17 different languages. The company also plans to release a version that uses Python, which is a more practical coding language for real-life programming than Scratch. And going forward, the company will add new functionalities and curricula to expand SPIKE Prime’s offerings, so that teachers can have new lessons to bring to their classrooms.

SPIKE Prime will be released in August, but it’s available for pre-order now on the LEGO Education website. Kits start at $329.95, with additional elements available separately.

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