Waiting behind a line of people to pay for your goods has be the most dreaded part of shopping in a brick-and-mortar store. New technology from Cambridge Consultants, a product development and tech consulting firm, is aiming to make the process less painful by guiding you to the checkout line that will get you out of the store the fastest.
The system, called ZipLine and making its debut at this week's CES in Las Vegas, consists of two parts.
In store, infrared body heat sensors scan the lines to see how many people they contain and how quickly they're moving. The scanners use a low-power radio network to communicate with each other. The second part of the system involves an algorithm that takes data from the sensors and translates it to information seen through a smartphone app that guides you to the most expedient line.
Because the scanners only use body heat to make their line-speed determinations, privacy is protected. The radio communication between the devices also means they can be spread out over relatively long distances so they can also provide information on lines that aren't all in one place -- measuring the waiting times at all the coffee shops in a mall, for example.
ZipLine's applications aren't limited to cash-register queues. The system can also be placed outdoors to monitor taxi lines and perhaps even be used in sections of amusement parks to tell you which rides have the shortest waiting times.
My initial thought upon hearing about this concept was that while it might help consumers shave waiting time off their shopping experience, the system could also be used to monitor the efficiency of register operators. Put another way, it could used to spy on employees.
"While this tech could feasibly help employers monitor their register operators, the same could be said for many lines of work," a company representative told me. "For example, a company that has drivers in the field with GPS could monitor productivity through the GPS. It's up to each individual company to determine how they'd like to use this information."
So there you go. It can be used to spy on employees!
While there are no stores who've agreed to install the system yet, a company representative told CNET that the Cambridge Consultants folks are "having some interesting conversations."