This S’pore startup makes use of Singpass to construct alcohol merchandising machines

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When it comes to automatons, no one can beat the land of the rising sun. In the glow of these fluorescent lights, you can get anything from hot soup to t-shirts, convenience really matters.

As a country where we like things within reach, I think we are not far behind Japan. From Norwegian salmon to Wagyu beef to the very first alcohol vending machine from the local startup Cellarbration.

A reality in which you can get a bottle of Pinot with just a few push of a button sounds like a reality in which I want to live – and I am too.

Vending machines are a dozen, but one that sells alcohol is a bit more sophisticated. Cellarbration’s vending machine uses Singpass to verify the age of the buyer.

How it started

“Cellarbration was founded in 2011 with the goal of bringing legal alcohol consumers the convenience and ease of buying alcohol online,” said Jason Tan, General Manager of Cellarbration.

As one of the online and retail destinations for the largest selection of beers, wines, spirits and whiskeys in Singapore, this seemed like the next natural step.

The vending machines are equipped with a robotic arm to dispense heavy, oddly shaped and fragile items such as glass bottles without damaging the products. Therefore, you can be sure that your MacCallum will arrive safely and without scratches in your hand.

Image source: winery

The idea for the liquor machine came when the government first announced the introduction of Singpass.

Since Singpass was developed as a national identification system to authenticate digital logins to verify identity and age, the Cellarbration team took its inspiration from it and investigated how this technology could be integrated into vending machines.

Singpass winery alcohol dispenserUsing a smartphone app with the vending machine / Image source: GovTech

Cellarbration partnered with fintech and artificial intelligence (AI) technology company Auresys to incorporate this new verification feature into vending machines.

With the Singpass mobile app, shoppers can easily check their age by scanning a QR code on the machine.

As we know, the Singpass app – one of Singapore’s Smart Nation projects – has become something of a high-flyer.

Singpass provides access to more than 1,400 digital services and supports over 340 government agencies and private organizations. A constantly evolving service, you can now use it in all sectors from banking and insurance to healthcare and charities.

You can also use Singpass to conveniently access your personal data, digitally sign documents and authorize transactions remotely via the app.

With all of these features at your fingertips, it means businesses looking to digitize can now access Singpass’s proven digital ecosystem and infrastructure where data and services cross the boundaries of organizations.

The myriad uses of Singpass APIs

Businesses and government agencies can access Singpass’s application programming interfaces (APIs) to provide access or to create new value-added services for Singapore residents.

The APIs can be built into systems to offer a range of services including user registration, customer authentication, and identity verification, to name a few.

Some APIs that are attractive to most businesses include Login and Verify.

Login is a secure authentication gateway. With login, customers can easily and securely access services without having to remember additional login data. Organizations also have access to a broad pool of Singpass users who are familiar with the platform.

Private sector organizations using Login include OCBC Bank, Prudential, NTUC Union, Income Insurance, Singapore Exchange, Singapore National Employers’ Federation and JustLogin’s HR solutions.

Verify, on the other hand, allows users to personally verify their identity and transfer data by scanning QR codes.

Verify is ideal for companies that require in-person registration processes. It can verify a person’s identity without people having to show or hand over their identity documents.

Infographic about buying drinks at CellarbrationHow to buy drinks from Cellarbration’s alcohol vending machine / Image source: Cellarbration

The same process is performed on the Cellarbration automat and only a few simple steps are required. All you have to do is scan your QR code and check your age and voila, the drinks are yours.

What are possible loopholes?

Of course, this seems like a perfect machine. A godsend for introverts who want to get their tip without unnecessary human interaction or judgment. So what if you like that IPA that’s a little too bougie for your sake?

However, there are a few loopholes to be aware of when introducing such a machine. First and foremost, there is an island-wide ban on the sale of alcohol from 10.30 p.m. to 7.30 a.m. There is a simple workaround for Cellarbration.

“The vending machines are powered by AI that can be remotely managed in the backend so we can ensure that rules and restrictions are set and followed,” said Jason. True, this is a simple solution and something that technology is good for.

But there is also the issue of privacy. With information like this on hand, who can say these buying habits are not being used against us in some way? Would this also open the user to dangerous situations like stalking with the known location and timestamps?

Last but not least, there are those annoying teenagers who want their first sip of Jack Daniels. Would these vending machines make it easier for you to buy that elusive can of beer? After all, all they have to do is borrow a parent or stranger’s phone and the beer is theirs.

Singpass winery alcohol dispenserImage source: Cellarbration

Despite these potential loopholes, Cellarbration is looking for more vending machines in the future and is not the only one in the game.

With local fintech Ascan planning to introduce a new feature in vending machines that will allow Singpass customers to purchase alcoholic beverages, it seems that more gamers are embracing the idea as well.

Is that more of a threat or an encouraging step? The Cellarbration folks see it as the latter.

Indeed, we’re excited to be the first in Singapore to introduce Singpass-enabled vending machines. With the introduction of more such vending machines, this would bring additional convenience without the tedious wait, especially for consumers who want to quench their thirst.

Jason Tan, General Manager of Cellarbration

While the added convenience for consumers is an obvious boon, we need to consider the tradeoffs possible when technology is adopted so quickly and with such open arms. We could be just a drink away from a Black Mirror episode, and we certainly don’t want that.

Highlighted image source: Cellarbration / GovTech

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