Wednesday, April 25, 2007

French parties call voting machines a 'catastrophe'

Zut alors! Looks like the US isn't the only country having a trouble with its electronic voting equipment, as after spending several years out of the spotlight of the e-voting misadventure, three unlikely allies in the French political party system (namely the Socialists, the Communists and the Greens) united to call the kiosks a "catastrophe." These quotes from PhysOrg (an unlikely source I'll admit, but it's more of a tech issue than a political one I suppose), say it all:
Amid big queues in general to vote, people using the electronic machines were forced to wait up to two hours to cast ballots... Daniel Guerin, a member of the Paris regional council, made an official complaint to the Constitutionl Council because of "disfunctioning" machines in his constituency in Villeneuve-le-Roi, in the Paris suburbs.

The elderly had particular problems with the machines. Many said they did not believe the computerised system would keep their vote secret.

"I have come here twice and twice I have had to walk away without voting. It takes too long," said Pierre Bascoulergue, a pensioner in Issy-les-Moulineaux, near Paris. "I just don't trust these machines."

The Issy town hall said the long queues were because of the huge turnout in the election.

In the champagne capital of Reims in eastern France a breakdown delayed the start of computer voting. The complicated machines further held up voting in the city during the day.

"It is total chaos, we don't understand anything," said 70-year-old Suzanne Antoine.

"You put your card in and it says 'continue'. Then nothing lights up. I managed to finish but I prefer the way it was before."

Researchers at Paul Verlaine University in Metz said that trials on two of the three machines used in France showed that four people out of every seven aged over 65 could not get their votes recorded.

Researcher Gabriel Michel, a psychologist, said the machines posed "enormous problems".

The computer has several buttons that allow electors to choose the candidate they want to back. There is also an "abstention" button for protest votes.
While the machines have caused a bit of an uproar during their first outing in a French presidential election, they were only used for about 1.5 million of France's 44.5 voters, so things clearly could have been much worse. Oh well, at least they weren't using Diebold machines...

Tags: electronic voting, e-voting, self-service, kiosks

Monday, April 23, 2007

NCR to step up their self-service presence

A few months ago Self-Service World did an article about NCR's position in the kiosk industry, and whether they were expected to improve or decline in the market under the command of CEO Bill Nuti. While those who proffered opinions on the matter (myself included) were on the fence as to how and when NCR would make their move at the time, BusinessWeek picked up a story from the company last week indicating that they're definitely starting to focus more tightly on the self-service industry. The article notes:

Nuti hopes self-service terminals will be used by consumers to pay bills, renew driver's licenses, and buy bus and lottery tickets, gift and phone cards and even casino chips.

"There are legs for that business for the future," Nuti said.

He sees retailers expanding from self-service checkout scanners to self-service kiosks that offer multiple transactions. Retailers see it as a way to bring more customers into their stores, cash in on impulse purchases and create customer loyalty, he said.

Whether Nuti's workaholic style and attitude will allow him to drive NCR as a leader and innovator in the self-service field remains to be seen, but judging by his words (and some small actions so far), he certainly considers it to be a strategically important area for the company. Makes sense, given NCR's foothold in many of the world's top retail locations, as well as their expertise in tangential technologies like ATMs and POS systems.

Tags: NCR, kiosks, self-service

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Airports try gaming kiosks

Another good post from the Kiosk and Self-Service Blog points out that "Denver International Airport can now play one of roughly 19 computer games at individual stations located throughout the concourses" thanks to new self-contained Internet cafe-style kiosks courtesy of Zoox Stations and RMES Communications. For $0.25/minute, users can surf the Internet or play any one of a number of games while waiting for their Nor'easter-delayed flight to arrive.

Zoox and RMES have apparently noticed that anybody with a laptop capable of connecting to the airport's free WiFi connection suddenly doesn't need a cybercafe very much, and those lacking such hardware probably aren't the best market to go after anyway.

However, unless you have a really big, really expensive laptop, the gaming experience isn't up to par with the latest generation of high-def blockbuster games. That's why this kiosk makes sense. With more space and no need for portability, the devices feature huge 23" screens, enhanced graphics and sound, and plenty of room for whatever computer/console equipment is needed to run today's games.

Tags: Zoox, RMES, interactive kiosks, gaming kiosks

Making the case for music download burning kiosks

The Kiosks and Self-Service Blog caught this blog article/rant on the music downloading kiosk industry, or rather, the lack of such an industry right now. Despite projects of varying success levels by Starbucks, Wal-Mart and TWE (via their holding in Mix-and-Burn), music kiosks still seem to be a hard sell. Maybe it's because anybody with an Internet connection can download music -- legally or illegally -- with ease directly to a CD-R or MP3 player. Maybe it's because the world's most popular MP3 player, the iPod, uses a proprietary DRM system. Or maybe it's just because people aren't primed to buy music when they happen to encounter these kiosks out in the real world. Enter Mediaport Entertainment, a Salt Lake City-based kiosk provider whose machines can be used to transfer audiobooks, music, games, ringtones, etc. to compatible devices. The company has just entered an agreement with Power Music (they supply of workout soundtracks and compilations), to help push the Mediaport kiosks into gyms and fitness centers.

While I know that I arrive at the gym with an iPod pre-loaded with tunes that I hope are going to give me some help during the next hour of aerobic hell, I love the idea of using the kiosk to push a value-added content product instead of individual tracks that could be downloaded anywhere, and I'd be much more likely to try out somebody's "ultimate 30 minute weightlifting mix" or "60 minute power walking tracks" compilation than use a kiosk to buy a random assortment of tunes that I could just have easily taken off of the net or downloaded from iTunes.

Whether this business model will work remains to be seen. But at least MediaPort has recognized the struggles of much larger competitors, and is working to address those challenges in a unique way.

Tags: MediaPort, interactive kiosks, music download

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Coke to deploy contactless vending machines

With all of the noise about contactless payment, biometric payment, RFID and even cellphone payment systems, it's not surprising to see that vending machines are being prepped to cash in on the contactless wave. As StorefrontBacktalk notes in a very brief clip, Coke is planning a line of vending machines that will support contactless payment methods. Noting that, "The United States is rapidly becoming a ‘plastic nation’ with fast food restaurants and convenience stores accepting credit and debit cards," Coca-Cola Marketing VP Thacher Worthen indiciated that Coke "feel[s] the time is right to begin providing these same payment options to our customers."

By handling less cash, the vending machines will have less wear and tear on their moving parts (though they'll still be capable of taking cash, of course), will theoretically require fewer service calls, and will be less of a target for thieves and vandals, since there ought to be less cash sitting in the machines at any given time.

Of course, for all of this to work, somebody will actually have to implement a contactless payment system that gets used in the US. Sure, I know they're all the rage in Japan and Korea. I've even seen a few people use them in Europe. But back here in the good ol' US of A, we're a few generations behind on portable technology, and despite the success of some contactless payment programs like Mobil's SpeedPass system, the concept hasn't really caught on yet. Perhaps with the plethora of new payment options available that will begin to change, but if Coke is planning a major deployment of the systems before a de-facto standard is established, they may be jumping the gun a bit.

Tags: vending, kiosks, self-service, contactless payment