Partnership to Offer Smart Vending Machines for RFID Access, Payments

Connect&GO has invested in 25 percent of Montreal start-up Brite4 to develop and market smart vending machines for self-serve festival, concert or resort access, using Brite4's machine and reader portal designs with Connect&GO software and integration.
Published: October 17, 2018

RFID technology company Connect&GO has invested in dispensing systems startup Brite4 to provide vending machines that can dispense RFID wristbands tailored to selected access and pre-paid purchasing options. Connect&GO, located in Montreal, Canada, purchased 25 percent of Brite4. Under the terms of the agreement, approximately a dozen engineers and developers from Brite4 will now operate out of Connect&Go’s Montreal headquarters. The two companies will continue to operate independently.

The companies are currently developing a vending machine that can encode and dispense RFID wristbands at ski resorts and other locations, enabling individuals to pay entry fees and obtain wristbands on site, without having to interact with a dedicated human cashier. The relationship between the two firms dates back about four years, when Anthony Palermo, Connect&GO’s co-founder and CEO, met Brite4’s co-founders. At the time, he says, they were still students at École de Technologie Supérieur à Montréal (Montreal Superior School of Technology). The team had developed a mixed cocktail vending machine, Palermo says, and his company agreed to showcase that system to its clients.

Connect&GO’s Anthony Palermo

The cocktail machine was well received, Palermo recalls, and the next question was whether such machines could leverage the use of RFID technology. “We see real value in wristband distribution machines to encode an RFID tag in any shape,” Palermo says. That could include silicon wristbands, lift tickets, badges or other form factors. The vending machine that the companies are now marketing together can issue UHF, HF or NFC tags that can be used not only for access control, but for cashless payments.

The system is being launched next month at the new slope of the Owl’s Head ski resort in Montreal. The vending machines will dispense 13.56 MHz HF RFID lift tickets that will be interrogated by fixed RFID readers supplied by Connect&GO—and manufactured by a third-party provider—at a distance of about 2 to 3 feet. Brite4 is building the portal structure with an overhead mounting for the reader antennas, Palermo explains. “Then, as I show up to ski,” he states, “the system automatically scans my tag at the gate.”

Upon arrival, users would first proceed to the machine and enter their credit card information, along with any identifying details, if requested, such as a name or e-mail address. The payment made at that time could simply include one-time entry, or could be more complex. The system could then link an encoded tag with a variety of conditions.

For instance, a festival attendee could purchase access on specific days, or at particular times on certain days. At a ski resort, they could purchase a full-season pass or other options, such as weekends only. They could also load a pre-paid balance onto their wristband or other form-factor tag, enabling the purchase of food or souvenirs onsite. If a user arrives at a time that is not permitted with his or her purchased access, the gate displays a red light and that person can then pay for access at that specific time.

Connect&GO provides cloud-based software that captures read data, and also stores and manages access and payment information. “This investment from Connect&GO means a lot for Brite4,” says Gabriel Tétrault, Brite4’s CEO and co-founder. “Not only does it prove larger companies can help startups take their business to another level, it is also a sign of commitment and collaboration between our two companies.”

The partnership brings new challenges for Brite4, Tétrault reports, by bringing new potential customers and use cases to the startup’s development team. “But as we already have credibility in the industry,” he says, “we are ready to promote our products internationally.” By partnering with Connect&GO, Brite4 expects to develop new types of machines, as well as collaborating with Connect&GO on existing projects.

Tétrault says the idea originated during an entrepreneurial course, when the team built their first self-serve cocktail vending machine. “We spent that first year building the machine in my parents’ basement,” he recalls, “and our first event with the machine was a cocktail party at Connect&GO.” Brite4 participated in approximately 20 events in Canada throughout the year, including C2 Montréal (a three-day business conference) and the Osheaga Music and Arts Festival (one of the biggest festivals in Montreal).

Brite4’s Gabriel Tétrault

“Since the business was growing fast,” Tétrault says, “we decided to change our business model slightly and develop more solutions for permanent installations.” This shift, he notes, made Connect&GO’s investment beneficial for both companies. “At Brite4, we have used our expertise in building smart vending machines to expand our product portfolio and create donation kiosks and RFID wristband/card dispensers—and, of course, we still do self-serve cocktail dispensers.”

Palermo predicts the vending machines will open up self-service options to parks and events that will improve ticket sales by shortening queues and enabling more complex pass choices without requiring personnel at a ticket window. “It’s a total game-changer,” he says.

The machine will also offer an avenue for upselling to users. For instance, if a ski resort operated restaurants onsite, it could invite ticket buyers to make reservations for a particular evening. That, Palermo says, could lead to other sales as well. “If I go skiing and show up at 10 AM but reserve dinner, I have a commitment to an eight-hour day,” he states. Visitors could book other activities to fill gaps in their schedule, such as going shopping or reserving a massage before dinner.

For skiers, Palermo explains, such a solution would transform what might have been a morning skiing exercise to a full day of activities. “The marketing strategy is to make it a better experience for skiers,” he says. Tétrault adds, “We are also working with a number of clients in the amusement park industry to develop smart vending machines for their park.”