Fill it or empty it better with cloud feedback

What do vending machines and garbage cans have in common?  They both are in public places; they both need a regular visit, to fill or to empty them; and there are lots of them.   There are companies now that will add sensors to them, and use cloud computing services to keep them serviced.

Cantaloupe Systems was founded in 2002  to modernize the vending machine business with communications.  They provide vending machine operators a device to install inside a vending machine to communicate every transaction the machine performs.  The data is sent over cell phone data networks to Cantaloupe’s data centers, allowing operators to schedule visits to the replenish the machines exactly when needed.   The company claims their customers average $35,000 in annual savings per delivery route,  reducing their fuel use (and their carbon footprint) by 40 percent by eliminating unnecessary truck travel and removing excess product from the trucks.  The data they gather also allows the vending operators to make better choices about products to stock, based on which are selling best in each location.  Cantaloupe now monitors 40,000 machines nationwide, with thousands more machines coming online each month.  They raised $12m in venture capital this month to finance more expansion.

BigBelly Solar addresses a mirror-image problem:  how to efficiently remove what people put into its machines.  BigBelly makes a garbage can for city streets that contains a motorized compactor, so that it can receive more trash between visits to empty the can.  It powers the compactor from solar cells, so it doesn’t need an electricity connection.  It also uses sensors to detect and transmit how frequently it is used, and how full it has become.  A cloud computing service records the data and schedules trash collections. The combination of compacting and just-in-time collection saves a lot of fuel and labor; Philadelphia estimates a 70% reduction.

A significant upside to both systems is that breakdowns and problems are detected much quicker, leading to better service.   When a vending machine or garbage can detects a malfunction or stops sending data altogether, the operator is notified immediately and a repair can dispatched at once. Taking corrective action even before a complaint is made can save everyone headaches.

What other containers come next?  Propane or water tanks for rural homes and businesses?  Postal drop boxes?  Porta-johns?  Feel free to speculate in the comments below.

April 28, 2010 · knovak · 2 Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Uncategorized

2 Responses

  1. Darren Harney - December 19, 2010

    We are doing something similar for commercial dishwashing machines.

  2. knovak - December 20, 2010

    HI, Darren, I just checked the bolerowireless.com site and indeed your product is a prime example of cloud feedback in action. Thanks for the tip!

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