When you pick up a tomato at the grocery store, you might judge it on its ripeness. You can’t tell much else just by looking at it.
But the tomato has a whole backstory – from the vine it grew on to the CO2 it generated on the farm to the chemical treatments it received.
The “Supermarket of the Future” wants to give you that backstory. In late December, a custom Coop supermarket designed by MIT’s Senseable City Lab opened in Milan. Display screens in the produce aisles tell you about every item using augmented reality and sensors.
Carlo Ratti, the director of MIT’s Senseable City Lab and founding partner of the design firm Carlo Ratti Associati, led the project. He tells Business Insider that his firm plans to open more outside Italy in coming months.
Take a look inside.
Designed by MIT and built by Italian grocery giant Coop, the first Supermarket of the Future recently opened in Milan.
The food there is not organized like a typical grocery store.
Foods made from the same ingredients are paired together. For example, grapes are next to the wine, and fresh tomatoes sit next to canned tomatoes.
Above the produce, there are long reflective screens.
When customers hold up an item, the screen’s motion detector and Microsoft Kinect sensors recognize it, and then displays its nutrition facts, price, pesticides or fertilizers used in production, potential allergens, and details of its journey to the market.
Elsewhere in the store, there’s another 65-foot-long visualization wall composed of 54 monitors that shows cooking suggestions and daily top-selling products.
Food sits on short bookcase-like shelves. The idea is that, since customers can see into the next aisle, they might strike up a conversation with a stranger.
Many people like quick trips to the grocery store. But Ratti hopes that shoppers will linger in the Supermarket of the Future.
He believes that data can help shoppers make more informed decisions about what they eat.
“I like to think that internet technologies can help us reconnect with the food chain,” Ratti says.
I could also imagine the Supermarket of the Future as a great marketing tool for grocery stores. The longer shoppers spend in a market and learn about specific items, the higher chance they might buy more food or more expensive, organic produce.
The screens could be provide valuable spaces for ads too. For example, if a store wants to sell more of a particular product they have a surplus of, they could use the screens to advertise them.
In the future, Ratti expects to see more food markets and stores in general that provide not only products, but experiences too. His firm also helped design Eataly, the world’s largest marketplace for Italian food.
“If you want, you can still buy an apple in one second. But if you have five more seconds you can find out more about it. And if you have 15 seconds, you might even see the video of the orchard where it was grown,” Ratti says.