Imagine you’re at a football game, parched and in need of a beer but don’t feel like waiting in an interminable line. You will soon be able to open an app, order your beverage of choice, then pick it up at the nearest American Green machine.
The app will even tell you the location of the nearest machine—for example, in the main concourse outside section 110. When you get there, you scan your fingerprint, verifying your identity and age, and get your beer.
One of American Green’s machines–“the world’s most sophisticated smart-vending operating system”–could also be located in the lobby of your apartment building, stocked with everything from wine to prescription medicine (which you’d only be able to retrieve with a nod from your doctor, who’d have to be willing to work with the network), saving tenants from having to make a trip to the store.
These new vending machines, from American Green Inc., look less like the glass-front hunks of metal seen in schools and laundromats across the country and more like the check-in kiosks in airports–they have touch-screen interfaces, accept both cash and credit, and can be linked to your bank account. Ease of use is nice, but the real convenient appeal for consumers is that they enable the vending of controlled or age-restricted products, including alcohol, pharmaceuticals, casino chips, emergency pregnancy tests, cannabis, and (seriously) even firearms.
Whether you’re more excited or alarmed, the entrepreneurs behind the patent-protected system promise it’s as safe as it is convenient.
“We’ve added smart technology [to vending machines] and age verification through finger vein recognition,” vice president of automated sales and development Lindel Creed told Fast Company. The vein biometric authentication is more secure than basic fingerprint technology, because the veins are located beneath the skin surface–and as Creed explained, considering the kind of variables that might accompany vending machines filled with guns: “If you cut the finger off, the veins collapse.”
American Green consultant Stephen Shearin says so far only a few users have been invited to test the machines under a trial basis.
The system was originally designed for the medical marijuana market, allowing dispensary members to pick up their preferred herbal remedy with a swipe of a finger. Theoretically, the tech could be used to bring any vending machine into the 21st century.
“The technology allows for an entrepreneur or business owner to sell things that have restrictions on them, conveniently and safely. In the gun scenario, you could sign up, complete the 24- or 72-hour waiting period, then make the purchase,” Shearin says. “A better application for firearms would be at a gun range, located outside city limits, not sitting somewhere on Fifth Avenue for someone to take in the subway. In the appropriate place, for the business owner who wanted, we can make sure the right person is getting it.”
To date, there doesn’t seem to be any actual interest from the gun community in the American Green machine. Even if there were, selling deadly weapons (or ammunition) out of a vending machine seems entirely unnecessary, no matter how secure. (More guns don’t make America safer.)
The good news is that while that specific use case (like cannabis sales) will be strictly limited by city, state, or federal law, other potential applications are more in sync with the American community at large.
“The exciting questions have to do with adult use,” says Shearin, “but the reality is it’s a system which specifies exactly who you are.” In a school setting, vending of certain products like soda or candy could be restricted to junior and seniors, he says, or to people maintaining straight A’s.
Signing up for American Green’s smart vending network requires meeting with a real-life American Green employees on location, each trained to verify your government-issued ID. But once your account has been created, and your finger’s veins scanned, you get instant access to any linked vending machine anywhere–just not necessarily every product.
The system’s intuitive interface and experience is currently marketed as being “as good as human.” “What we mean by that is not that machines–hopefully, God help us–will ever be as good or better than humans,” says Shearin. “The fact is we’re social creatures, and there are ways to socially engineer somebody who’s supposed to be checking an ID. Once you’re in the system, and you’ve been scrutinized, it winds up being more convenient than humans.”
The increasingly common American consumer who’d rather not interact with other people–whether that be bartender, pharmacist, or gun salesman–probably can’t wait till these are on every corner.