Service with a smile: new system helps you find the shortest queue



An innovative queue monitoring service devised by Cambridge Consultants is set to take the frustration out of shopping.


The frustration of joining the ‘wrong’ queue in a store – and watching everyone else get served before you – could soon be a thing of the past. Product design and development firm Cambridge Consultants has devised an innovative queue monitoring service that allows shoppers to see where they can get served first – even in a large department store where the shortest queue might be on a different floor.

The ZipLine technology not only looks at the length of a queue but also how fast it is moving, and it can cope with irregular queues that snake round shop displays. As the system is not limited to inside the store, at the end of a shopping trip it could even provide information about how long the taxi queue is – or where to find the quickest coffee while you wait for the taxi queue to go down.

“We’re all familiar with the supermarket checkout dilemma of trying to pick not just the shortest but the fastest queue – and the frustration when you get it wrong,” said Tim Ensor, head of connected devices at Cambridge Consultants. “But how can you choose the fastest option when you can’t see the other cash desks or changing rooms? ZipLine gives you the answer via a simple web interface on your smartphone.”

The ZipLine system uses infrared sensors to detect the number of people in a queue and how fast the line is moving. As it works from body heat, there are no privacy issues as it does not record or identify individuals. The sensors are combined with a novel long-range, low-power radio network – so it can be deployed anywhere – plus a unique set of algorithms which converts the raw data from the sensors into useful information which can be displayed on a shopper’s phone.

Unlike existing queue monitoring systems, ZipLine is designed to handle queues that are not all in the same place. Its innovative radio technology enables it to work over distances of several kilometres – making it possible to monitor the queues at all the coffee shops in a town centre, for example. Its unique algorithms can combine data on location, queue length and speed of movement to direct a potential customer not just to the nearest coffee shop – but to where they can get a coffee as quickly as possible.

“In the increasingly competitive retail sector, technology can be a crucial differentiator,” said Ensor. “Our ZipLine concept aims to show how taking a service design approach to a problem can give a retailer vital competitive edge by transforming the customer experience. In this example, we’re analysing some complex sensor data – and turning it into intelligent information that can be shared with customers in a simple but meaningful way. Yet it has the potential to remove a major source of frustration for shoppers.”

Cambridge Consultants is demonstrating ZipLine, together with other innovations such as the SparTag data collection technology and KiCoPen smart insulin pen concept – a Red Dot Award winner – at the 2016 International CES, January 6-9, in the Sands Expo, Las Vegas, stand 73731.


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Cambridge Consultants

For over 50 years, Cambridge Consultants has led the way in innovative product development. We are the development partner of choice to many of the world’s leading blue chips, as well as the virtual development team for ambitious start-up companies.

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