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Czech beer
March 28, 2007

The beer in the machine

New scanner enables 24/7 access to cold gold for those with proper ID

Probably not for the first time, beer has inspired new technology.

While the Czech Republic leads the world in pivo consumption with an annual average of 160 liters (42.3 gallons) per capita, beer until now has only been available from bars and retailers, both of which can check whether the would-be buyer is a minor.

Legally, beer may not be sold to anyone under 18. But in 2005 two Czech businessmen, Karel Stibor and David Polnar, began the quest for a solution that would enable legal beer sales without any labor cost.

An identification-card reader will allow holders of Czech and European Union passports and IDs to verify their ages and drink up.

“When walking on the street, you’re surrounded by various vending machines,” Polnar explains. “But there were none selling such a typical thing here as beer.”

Compelled to fill that niche, he and Stibor began researching what was needed to launch their vision of beer vending machines.

“We began looking into the issue from the perspective of a regular beer consumer,” Polnar recalls. “First, we raised the question ‘Why are beer vending machines not available when other similar machines are?’ After we realized it is because of vending machines’ inability to verify a buyer’s age, we began thinking about possible solutions.”

In cooperation with the JVM Computers firm, Polnar and Stibor began developing a card-reading device that could do just that.

In mid-March, the team, together with Pilsner Urquell brewery, announced the smart beer vending machine.

“We’ve developed a special reading device that can scan buyers’ IDs and passports, in order to determine their age,” Stibor explains. “If a buyer is under 18, coins inserted in the machine’s slot are returned and the machine does not dispense the beer can.”

The scanner recognizes not only Czech IDs and passports, but also all EU cards.

The developers have applied for Czech and international patents and would like to offer the technology to other businesses where the age of customers is a factor.

“This technology can also be applied to door systems, turnstiles, gaming machines, Internet terminals or cigarette vending machines,” Polnar says.

Key partnership

In the next five years, smart beer machines will be exclusively used by Pilsner Urquell, Polnar says, because it was through the brewery’s partnership that they made the breakthrough.

“We contacted several companies when developing the new technology, and Pilsner Urquell agreed to finance the development. It was only after we signed a contract last December agreeing to the business partnership that we realized the project would really materialize.”

While refusing to comment on total development costs, Polnar says each machine costs 137,000 Kč ($6,543), and the reading device, which can be installed in different types of machines, costs about 30,000 Kč.

Pilsner Urquell’s corporate brand manager, Vladimír Jurina, says the brewery supported the new technology because it’s a boon for beer sales.

“Retailers are interested because this machine will enable 24-hour sales without the need to employ sales attendants,” Jurina said.

After installing a prototype in the Czech Technical University dormitories in Prague’s Bubeneč district, Pilsner Urquell intends to place more at hotels and pensions that do not have their own restaurants, and also in other dorms, shopping malls and gas stations.

By the end of March, some 20 machines should be installed throughout Prague, and up to 100 will be located in the central Bohemia region by the end of the year.

Prices of vending-machine beer will be higher than for beer from grocery stores, but lower than those at 24-hour shops and gas stations.

All machines will carry nonalcoholic Radegast Birell, and other brands from the Pilsner Urquell stable will depend on the location of the machine, Jurina says.

After signing the partnership deal with Pilsner Urquell, Polnar and Stibor launched the new technology in the guise of a newly minted firm, Future Art.

“The business mission of this company will be finding all possible markets for this new technology,” Polnar says.

About the Automat

  • What makes it different: The beer machine is equipped with a card-reading device to verify people’s ages
  • Where the machines will be located: Mostly at hotels and pensions without restaurants, as well as in dorms, shopping malls and gas stations
  • When they will appear: By the end of March, 20 machines should be installed throughout Prague. By the end of the year, up to 100 will be in central Bohemia


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