For the past three years, school systems and legislatures have been struggling, mostly unsuccessfully, with ways to reduce childhood obesity. One reason most initiatives have accomplished little more than creating additional frustrations for all parties involved, not to mention untold financial costs, is they have targeted the existence of vending machines.
Vending machines, also referred to as unattended points of sale and cashier-less distribution points, are now taking on the opposite role – that of solution provider.
Thanks to new vending technology, vending machines are being used to identify students, authorize transactions, dispense healthy meals, chart nutritional consumption, and compile audit data for compliance with subsidized and reimbursable meals programs. Often described as a supplement or replacement for cafeteria-line service, the self-service aspects of "v-commerce" are beginning to revive school foodservice delivery.
Vending provides Student identification
A majority of school foodservice programs operate on a prepayment basis. Prepayments result in vending machine transactions being conducted on a cashless basis with dependence on accurate student account postings.
In addition to accurate transaction settlement, students using vending machines to purchase meals, beverages, a la carte items, or meal components must be identified to facilitate individual nutritional monitoring and foodservice compliance auditing. There are several options for vending machine based student identification, including:
1) PIN-pad reader. This is the most popular of the options for food service vending; a personal identification number (PIN) is entered onto the vending machine via a PIN-pad similar to an ATM keypad. A unique PIN authorizes and initiates the transaction and subsequent transfer of purchased product information to a central consumption database for tracking as well as to a subsidized or reimbursable meals settlement system, as applicable.
2) Contact reader. This is a magnetic stripe reader for swiping a student carried plastic payment card (credit card sized). The friction of the card swipe enables the device to capture data stored on the magnetic track of the card. Interaction between the card code and the reader enables exchange of data for account access and subsequent transaction posting to the purchased product consumption database and subsidized or reimbursable meals settlement system, as appropriate.
3) Scan reader. This is a machine mounted scanning device used to read a bar code printed on a plastic payment card or alternate media. The scanner simply reads the code as it passes in front of a beam of light. The verification and acceptance of a legitimate code initializes the transaction and allows subsequent data transfer of purchased products for subsidized pricing or qualifying reimbursable meal components.
4) Contactless reader. Still in early stages of development and currently cost prohibitive, some vendors intend to accelerate student identification processing through implementation of a radio frequency identification (RFID) reader. In this application, the student carries a payment card with an embedded RFID chip.
Waving the RFID card in close proximity of an RFID reader will enable the rapid transference of account information for transaction authorization. Purchased product data will be sent to the consumption database and the subsidized or reimbursable meals settlement system.
5) Biometrics reader. With biometric authentication, the student does not need to carry a payment platform for processing. Biometric authentication is based on a distinct physical characteristic (e.g., fingerprint or hand geometry) that is always with the student.
Projected to have a high rate of acceptance, biometrics ensures that the person conducting the transaction is the authorized user. Once the transaction is initiated, subsequent consumption database recordation and subsidized or reimbursable meal settlement will follow.