For a certain group of people life is basically impossible without coffee. I’m one of those people. So it was with a lot of excitement that I helped Air New Zealand improve how they served coffee in the Koru Lounge.

The idea was simple – as you enter the lounge with your Air NZ app in your pocket we should be able to figure out that you’ve just entered the lounge and tell the Barista to start making your preferred coffee for you so that by the time you reach the Barista station your coffee is there for you waiting. Thus, reducing the risk that you will miss your early morning flight because you couldn’t order a coffee yourself and therefore couldn’t function.

An enhanced concept involved an interactive barista workstation and bar top where coffee cups as they were placed down were tracked and the customer’s name and coffee choice were rendered with the cup – along with how long they had before boarding. This concept was actually built using some cutting edge bar top technologies and custom vision tracking to keep track of all the coffees. Each coffee cup and saucer had one of approximately a thousand unique circular code patterns and the system could track hundreds of cups simultaneously. The surface used infra-red edge lit acrylic to handle multi-touch and actually allowed multiple customers to order a coffee simultaneously (for those that didn’t use the AirNZ app).

But it ultimately never saw a production roll out I think mainly because the tiny gap between the bottom of a takeaway cup and the surface it sat on meant the cameras needed an almost transparent surface to see through. Ultimately the bar top could have used a material similar to privacy glass operating at 120Hz where the glass would be transparent for a cycle and fully opaque for a cycle. Coupled with a 60Hz camera looking through the completely transparent cycles and a 60Hz presentation device projecting during the completely opaque cycles could have overcome this limitation, but the technology was getting quite expensive at this point and a tiny slip of paper tucked under the cup along with an iPad for ordering provided 90% of the experience at a fraction of the cost!

I still think it’s a shame the hi-tech version never made it!

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