The line between technology and its deployment in fields as diverse as food, electronics, and finance is blurring, making the Internet of Things essentially an ingredient tossed into each industry.
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“We’re bringing technology and non-technology together,” says Susan Clark, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. “I’m wondering when there won’t be a line.”
Clark made the remarks on May 5 during the inaugural event for the U.S. Chamber Technology Engagement Center, or C_TEC, event in the TecExec Series. The aim of the series is to bring together public and private sector leaders to talk about the future of technology and its role across business across business sectors.
The first event picked a hot trend, “Farm to Table: A Tech Story,” and covered technology in agriculture, retail, production, distribution, and the grocery industry.
When it comes to the food they eat, Americans are becoming savvier. Clark cited a poll that found 79 percent of the public believes technology benefits production. And, she says, they want to increase the role of technology in agriculture.
Featured guests included Chris Hjelm, executive vice president and chief information officer at Kroger, one of the world’s largest retail grocers with 2,800 stores in 35 states. Hjelm says to compete with other grocers for consumers who want to know more about the food they eat and its origins, Kroger continues to push the edge with technology to personalize the shopping experience.
He says Kroger was the first to introduce the automated scanners at the store checkouts in the 1970s that are still around today. The company is moving quickly to completely digitize its stores, already deploying sensors to manage temperatures in frozen and refrigerated cases to keep food safe, a necessity under the federal Food Safety Modernization Act.
Kroger also merged with 84.51°, a predictive analytics company named for the longitude of its headquarters in Cincinnati. It can look at customers’ habits and get food from its source to the market more quickly so there’s less spoilage, ensuring it lasts longer after consumers buy it.
“We decided we could automate the process,” says Hjelm of controlling temperature, which previously had been done manually by employees with thermometers. “We designed a network and sensor tags for temperature control. With the sensors, we can fix problems before there’s a safety or food quality problem.” He adds that there are hundreds of sensors in each of Kroger’s 2,800 stores.
The aim is to personalize the customer shopping experience from the time they walk through the door to the point they stroll down the aisles. There, they will find smart shelf edges that can highlight items they buy frequently, ones that are allergen-free, or any other parameter.
Future technologies under consideration include putting a list of items the customer needs on his or her mobile phone and listing them in the order in which they are stocked in each aisle. Also, its system will be able to find and sort coupons based on shopping patterns.
“It’s a share-of-wallet game,” adds Stuart Aitken, CEO of 84.51°. “Data is becoming so powerful and is impacting so much in so many ways.”
Other topics at the session included using drones not only to deliver food, but also to help farmers assure rows of plants are even or to locate areas that show signs of spoilage or infestations.