This is a blog entry cross-posted from my Intel Software blog at

I'm not really big on "shopping" as a sport. Some people love to wander the up and down the aisles of Costco on a "treasure hunt" to see new and unexpected items for sale or wander from store to store in a shopping mall.  I'm more one of those "hunters" who targets what I need, goes in for the kill, and relaxes in the cave after the hunt.

But I can see how something like the smart kiosks that Paul Otellini showed off in his Comdex keynote would be cool for shopping athletes. (Spendletes?) In case you missed it the first time around, here it is again:

Here's the link:

Offhand, if you were given the job to build something like this for a customer, what kind of technology would you need to pull it off?

  • 3D graphics. Plenty of animations which would be nicely rendered in OpenGL or it's cousins.
  • Touch input with a really big touch screen area.
  • Recognition algorithms which can take a video feed and determine the height and gender of the shopper.
  • Video playback. You probably want efficient video decode.
  • Networking and a quick database connector to look up loyalty memberships
  • Blue tooth connection to send directions or coupons to your phone
  • How about enough processing horsepower to handle multiple of these kiosks in the store

Although all of these appear to be important, the most critical technology of them all is not even listed here.

The most important technology is that it doesn't crash.

When I see something like this demo, I imagine kids coming into the store and playing around with it endlessly. I see teen hackers trying to break into the network somehow. I see a store staffed with employees who don't have the training to fix it if it goes haywire.

That's why this kind of thing is considered an embedded application. If you deploy something like this in your store, the last thing you want to see is a BIOS setup screen or the Blue Screen of Death. You design it to be tough as a tank and to run forever.

Frankly, this is one reason why people start with systems like an embedded Linux system, which has a great reputation for running for months on end with no intervention even with advanced technologies running on top.

Of course, it's just a short step from this kiosk to the kinds of displays we saw in "Minority Report"

No telling when people will be willing to give up their privacy for the sake of a better tank top at The Gap.