Thursday, August 03, 2006

Lab Nets Learning Experience - Biometric COKE

UCSD Biometric Vending - Facial Recognition Screen. Image Credit: UCSD SodaVision

College is such a fun time. Only in the lab would one think up a way to use one of the more difficult and complex approaches to "Speedpassing" a soda.

This spring, A group of grad students at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) are in the process of creating what one of the students calls the "most over-designed soda machine in the world."

The idea they were able to prove (almost - 80% accurate) was that a group of dedicated computer science students could outfit a soft drink machine with an automobile computer and program it to accept account creation and verification input from a barcode scanner and a few biometric image process devices.

Excerpts from -

Grad students in San Diego build biometric vending machine
By Andy Williams, Contributing Editor - Monday, July 31 2006

The project, called SodaVision (, is the brainchild of UCSD engineering associate professor Stefan Savage.

"I came up with the idea in June, 2005, but we didn't get the soda machine until later that year. I had some discretionary money, so I bought a generic machine," he said. "The biggest problem was putting through a purchase order for a 'biometric soda machine.' I got a few weird looks. I never actually gave the project the name. That came from the students."

He said the computer science department at UCSD has had a soda and snack cooperative, nicknamed Chez Bob by the students, for some 20 years. "You would put in 50 cents and take out a coke. About 10 years ago, someone came up with the idea that you could log into a computer, list the amount of money you're depositing into the (Chez Bob) account; then when you buy a coke, log that in against your account," said Dr. Savage. "I thought, 'Here we are a leading computer science program, we should have something better.' So, I offered it as a project for the grad students."

What SodaVision ended up becoming - and it's still a work in progress - is what second year computer science grad student Tom Duerig calls "the most over-designed soda machine in the world."

"I wanted it to be incredibly easy to use," said Dr. Savage. "I bought the soda machine and a touch screen and the fingerprint reader, a Fujitsu MBF 200. We looked for a fingerprint reader that would work with our software and with Linux. Now they (the students) have actually torn (the fingerprint reader) apart and rewired it to work with the machine."

The students built the interface. "I had one guy design a touchscreen that looks like the one used in Star Trek. Somewhere along the way they added a camera and another group added a 2D laser barcode scanner," said Dr. Savage.

The camera, a web cam, is for facial recognition, the next big step in the technology-heavy machine. "The students even wrote the software to recognize the images," he added.

"Our goal is to have the soda machine simply recognize who is standing in front of it when a soda is vended or money is inserted to charge or deposit into the appropriate account. And thus was born SodaVision," wrote Mr. Duerig in a paper explaining the project.
The brain inside SodaVision is a small computer designed for cars. It is stored inside the soda machine and is equipped with an Intel Celeron 2GHz processor with 512MB of RAM. The computer fit the students' needs in that "it was very small, slow, quiet, and didn't produce a lot of heat," explained the 23-year-old Mr. Duerig. "We briefly considered putting a quad CPU 1U server in there as that would have fit, but we decided against it for heat reasons."
The machine is available to grad students, faculty and staff in a locked room accessible via a card reader on the door.

While the team of five grad students concentrate on increasing the accuracy of the facial recognition software, Dr. Savage still utilizes just the fingerprint reader. "I use it every day, because I'm used to using the reader."

"The only way to purchase soda is when you're logged in (currently via the fingerprint reader). You can also deposit money into your account (through a slot attached to the machine)," said Mr. Duerig. The soft drink or candy bar or other snack is then scanned with the barcode reader and charged against the user's account.

Right now, the facial recognition part of SodaVision is carrying an 80% accuracy rate. "We're shooting for 95% accuracy." Eventually, the plan is for "dual recognition," added Mr. Duerig. You sign in with your thumbprint, and then go for facial recognition. But until we hit the magic 95% accuracy, it isn't integrated with the payment/purchase system," he added. "I suspect we'll hit that mark at the end of this summer for the unveiling of the project."
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I really do know that this soda machine is really just a project but jeeeeez ... to get a COKE, one has to:

First, access the room the machine is located via a proximity access card reader at the door (don't forget the card).

Then, one needs to place a finger on a fingerprint reader to verify that an account exists.

Next, one needs to stand in front of a webcam to have a picture taken so that the image can be processed by a car computer and matched with a previous image stored in the database.

Then, make a soda selection from the machine.

And finally, place the barcode printed on the COKE can in front of the barcode reader. Once scanned, the purchase is added to the corresponding account associated with the fingerprint and the face image in the database.

To leave the room, one may have to use the proximity access control card to open the door in order to get out.

Frankly, I like the idea Europe uses for applying access technology to purchasing from a vending machine. The process uses a cellphone, a telephone number, an account (ones enabled cellphone account), a 2-D Matrix style code (QR Code), and a scanner that can read the LCD screen of the cellphone (example - QK-11 scanner from DENSO).

The process is simple, verifiable and explained in a previous post here at Symblogogy.

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