Intel wants to reinvent retail shopping with hundreds of interactive displays

If you can't figure out what to purchase at the grocery store of the future, it won't be because Intel didn't try to help.

There's a reason why we all whip out smartphones in brick-and-mortar retail stores: Because we don't want to direct product-related questions to store clerks, who are usually either unbearably chirpy or sullen like moody teenagers.

But what if an intelligent display on a retail shelf could give you vital product information even before you asked? That's the schtick of an early, early system concept called Shelf-Edge Technology, which Intel showed off Tuesday at its Research@Intel event in San Francisco.

Here's how it works: Inside a smartphone app, you define all your personal shopping preferences--for example, what kind of car you own, what kind of food you like, and even what kind of food will provoke an allergic reaction. Next time your enter a store, your phone will make a Bluetooth connection to smart displays located underneath products on store shelves.

Walk by a row of candy bars, and the displays might flash with warnings under the treats that contain peanuts--because, you know, you told your smartphone that peanuts can kill you. Or if your smartphone knows what kind of car you drive, the displays might only light up under compatible parts.

Don't expect Shelf-Edge Technology to land inside Walmart or Target anytime soon. Intel said the technology is neither a beta nor an alpha nor even a prototype. It's just a technology demo--a flight of Intel fancy. Before it could ever be deployed, someone would have to resolve basic privacy issues (do you really want lookey-loos knowing your Rx requirements?), as well as expensive hardware and service costs.

Because no one would ever vandalise one of these displays in a fit of consumer rage, right?

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