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Note: Texte fondé sur des processus automatiques de reconnaissance optique de caractères. Seule la version PDF a une valeur juridique

[ EN ]

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This invention concerns a display device for food products equipped with means to automatically order said products .

The display device according to the invention is used in commercial enterprises, particularly in ice-cream or cake shops, to automatically manage the customers' orders, so as to reduce queues and keep them in order, lighten the burden and fatigue of the assistants serving, to create means to recognize the customers and encourage them to return, and to obviate the problem of possible linguistic misunderstandings with any foreign customers .
The invention can be employed in various types of commercial enterprise which offer customers the possibility of choosing specific articles from a plurality of products which can be selected and displayed for sale by an assistant, for example ice-cream on display in a refrigerator unit.
Hereafter we shall refer to an application of the invention to a glass case for the display, conservation and sale of ice-cream, but this example must not be considered restrictive for the application of the invention.
The state of the art generally includes examples of systems which can be used in commercial outlets to serve foodstuffs; these systems are suitable to partly automate, and therefore accelerate, the collection and management of customers ' orders .
These systems are applied mainly in commercial outlets such as bars, fast food outlets, delicatessens, restaurants or similar; their main purpose is to obviate the need for the customers to ask a sales assistant for the article which they have chosen from a plurality of products, for example on display in a refrigerator unit or listed and illustrated on appropriate price-lists, tables or similar.
In fact, in the more traditional systems where the sales assistant takes the order orally and the goods are paid for subsequently, there are difficulties in collecting and managing orders, especially in commercial enterprises where there is a large number of customers.
Very often, long queues form, with considerable inconvenience and long waiting times for the customers, and difficulties for the sales assistant in managing the orders: he/she is unable to respect the correct order of precedence of the customers.
Moreover, the long queues make it difficult for the customers to make a considered choice, because he/she cannot see all the articles on display from which he/she can choose, until he/she finds him/herself in front of the sales assistant, which entails a further and considerable waste of time.
Another disadvantage of traditional systems is the difficulty which customers have in ordering when they do not speak the same language as the sales assistant, for example, tourists; or difficulties encountered by children or elderly people in ordering.
A further disadvantage is that it is substantially impossible to compile continuously updated statistics on the articles sold, which can also be used to quickly replenish articles which are nearly finished, and also to undertake programs to recognize regular customers, and promotional offers, such as customer loyalty awards or similar.
However, the partly automatic ordering systems as proposed in the state of the art to solve these problems have been devised mainly with the purpose of preventing contact between the person responsible for preparing the food and the money, or alternative means of payment, so as to prevent the transmission of microbes or other biological contamination .
Moreover, the systems known in the state of the art are mainly for restaurants and self-service outlets, where the sales assistant has to make up pre-cooked foods, or heat if not cook said foods, and therefore the sales assistant's so-called "reaction times" are not very important.
Another disadvantage of conventional partly automated systems is that, from the point of view of graphical representation of the foodstuffs available and immediacy of perception, they are quite unsatisfactory; consequently, the customer spends a long time in front of the ordering means to look through the list of foodstuffs on the menu, to determine the quantity and means of packing, and therefore he/she in any case causes a long queue to form.
An example of such automated systems is shown in US-A-5.573.082.
The present Applicant has devised and embodied this invention to overcome all these shortcomings, perfecting the systems known to the state of the art, and to obtain further advantages as shown hereafter.
The invention is set forth and characterized in the main claim, while the dependent claims describe other characteristics of the main embodiment.
The purpose of the invention is to provide a display device for food products suitable to completely automate, and therefore accelerate, the collection and management of customers' orders, so as to allow the commercial enterprise to offer a quicker service, less subject to mistakes and misunderstandings .

Another purpose of the invention is to reduce and regularize the queues which are typical of commercial enterprises with large numbers of customers .
A further purpose is to reduce the number of sales assistants while still maintaining a rapid, quality service.

A further purpose is to eliminate problems of linguistic misunderstandings which may arise between the sales assistants and foreign language customers, or with children and elderly people, achieving interactive ordering means which can be perceived immediately and which have a high graphic and visual impact.
It is also a purpose of the invention to allow the compilation of statistics suitable to establish the customers' preferences, the quantities of products sold, with reference to, for example, various time bands or periods, the speedy replenishment of products which have nearly been sold out, and so on.
The invention is also intended to encourage users to acquire certain products, or to buy a greater quantity of products, using programs which reward the customer's loyalty and constancy, or similar.
A further purpose of the invention is to simplify and accelerate payment by the customers.
The device according to the invention comprises a structure defining at least an inner volume in which the products on sale are contained and displayed, associated, or possibly not, with one or more protective glasses or transparent elements .
On one side of the structure, electronic selection and command means which are available to the customer are arranged, and on the other side mating electronic display means available to the sales assistant.
The electronic selection and command means and the mating electronic display means are functionally connected to each other and are governed by an electronic command and control unit suitable to transmit the selection made by the customer to the display means in order to allow the sales assistant to carry out the order.
With the display device according to the invention, instead of applying directly to the sales assistant, the customer orders the desired product by means of the electronic selection and command means which, when the order has been confirmed, forward the order to the electronic display means.
The electronic selection and command means, according to a preferential embodiment, are applied directly on the display stand, or counter, or window, where the products to be delivered by the sales assistant are arranged, on the side of the display stand facing the customer.
In a preferential embodiment of the invention, the electronic selection and command means are of the interactive type, and are immediately perceptible both graphically and visually to the customer, thus allowing an ordering procedure which is extremely rapid, which allows to considerably reduce the formation of waiting queues.
In the specific case of displaying and selling ice-cream, the electronic selection and command means comprise keyboard means wherein there are specific zones or sectors for the selection, respectively, of the various flavors of icecream, the type of confection (cone, tub, container, etc.), the addition or not of cream or other optional toppings, the size of the product required.
These options, in the preferential embodiment, are shown graphically and visually by a system of icons, so that ordering becomes extremely simple and rapid, both for foreign language customers, or children or the elderly.

According to the invention, the electronic selection and command means are suitable to issue the customer with a receipt or other confirmation which will subsequently allow him/her to take possession of the product he/she has ordered, the receipt carrying at least the progressive number relative to the position in the queue of the specific customer.
As the sales assistant gradually fulfils the orders made, which appear on the display means according to the progressive order established by the priority in ordering, he/she puts the requested products in a pick-up zone available to the customers, who can collect them after showing their receipt.
In a preferential embodiment, it is possible to use the electronic selection and command means only by using an individual recognition mean, such as a card or similar.
The individual recognition mean can be used also to achieve a system of graded payments.
According to another preferential embodiment, the electronic selection and command means are suitable to exchange information with these individual recognition means concerning the use made thereof, in such a manner that the device can be linked to promotional and reward systems.
According to another preferential embodiment, moreover, the orders made by means of the electronic selection and command means are memorized, by a central memorizing and processing unit, in an electronic archive which can be consulted and processed to compile statistics, market research and so on.
These and other characteristics of the invention will become clear from the following description of a preferred form of embodiment, given as a non-restrictive example, with reference to the attached drawings, wherein:
Fig. 1 shows a refrigerator unit of an ice-cream parlour employing the display device according to the invention;
Figs . 2 and 3 show the electronic selection and command means applied on the refrigerator unit of Fig. 1;
Fig. 4 shows the electronic display means applied on the refrigerator unit of Fig. 1;
Fig. 5 is a detailed view of the structure of a preferential embodiment of the selection and command means shown in Fig. 2 ;
Fig. 6 is a detailed view of the structure of a preferential embodiment of the individual recognition means .
With reference to Fig. 1, a display device according to the invention consists of a refrigerator unit 10 of an icecream parlour.
The refrigerator unit 10 comprises a structure defining inside a containing volume for a plurality of tubs 11, in this case twenty four, each of which contains ice-cream of a particular flavor.
The containing volume is closed at the front, on the customer's side, by a transparent element 23, and at the rear, on the sales assistant's side, by a sliding protective glass 24.
Each tub 11 is marked, for example with a little card 25, a liquid crystal display, a back-illuminated label, a led or other display means, with an identification code which in this case consists of a number.
According to other embodiments, the identification code may consist of letters, a graphical representation suitable to distinguish the specific flavor, a symbol or similar.
It is obvious that the invention can be applied to a different type of equipment for display or sales, such as a vertical glass display, a counter for pastries, a shelf or otherwise.
The device according to the invention allows to accelerate and facilitate the collection and management of orders made by the customers.
The device comprises an electronic selection and command unit consisting of a first element 12a and a second element 12b, installed on the refrigerator unit 10 on the front side facing the customer, and an electronic display unit 13 installed on the same refrigerator unit 10 on the rear side facing the sales assistant.
To be more exact, the first element 12a of the selection and command unit is arranged on the upper side of the refrigerator unit 10 while the second element 12b is arranged at the front in an easily accessible position for the customer.
The electronic units 12a, 12b and 13 are functionally connected with each other by means of an electronic memorizing and processing unit, which can be integrated into either one of the two units 12a, 12b or 13, or can also be autonomous .
In this case, the first element 12a of the electronic selection and command unit comprises an interactive keyboard 14, while the second element 12b comprises a display 15, a printer 16 and a card reader 17 (Figs. 2, 3 and 5) .
The display unit 13 comprises a keyboard 18 and a display 19 (Fig. 4) facing towards the rear of the refrigerator unit 10.
The keyboard 14 is located at the same height as the tubs 11, which makes it easier for the customer to key in the orders .
The display 15, the printer 16 and the reader 17 are located above the refrigerator unit 10 at a height which gives the customer a clear and easy view thereof.
It is obvious that there may be more than one selection and command unit 12, located in any other point of the refrigerator unit 10.
According to a variant, there is a plurality of selection and command units distributed on the individual tables at which the ice-cream is eaten, so that the customer can order from the table at which he/she is sitting, the order is transmitted to the display unit 13 by means of a radio transmission system, with infrared rays, ultrasound or a cable system.
The keyboard 14, as can be seen in Figs. 2 and 5, comprises a plurality of keys 20 of the interactive type, divided into several distinct and separate functional units, in this case five in number, respectively 20a, 20b, 20c, 20d and 20e.
The first functional unit 20a comprises, in this case, twenty-four keys 20, each of which carries its own identification code (number, sign, symbol, etc.), the same as that carried on a corresponding tub 11.
In this way, we create a univocal correspondence between the keys 20 of the functional unit 20a and the tubs 11 of the refrigerator unit 10, so that for every key 20 there is a corresponding flavor of ice-cream.
The second functional unit 20b comprises two keys 20, configured as icons which can immediately be perceived graphically and visually (Fig. 5) which allow to select the type of product desired, such as for example a cone or a tub.
The second unit 20b may comprise three or more keys, for example to select take-away containers of various sizes.
The third functional unit 20c, which can also be immediately perceived visually, comprises, in this case, three keys 20 which allow the customer to select the size, for example, small, medium or large, of the product selected.
The fourth functional unit 20d has one or more keys, each corresponding to a desired topping, consisting for example of cream, chocolate, biscuits, syrup or suchlike, to add to the chosen ice-cream.
In this case too, the keys 20 of the functional unit 20d are configured as icons which represent the image of the option which can be selected; it is therefore extremely easy to see and therefore to choose, even for foreign customers, children or the elderly.
The fifth functional unit 20e comprises, in this case, two keys 20; a first key allows to cancel the last choice made, or, one step at a time, to cancel the whole order, while the other key allows to confirm the order.
The display device functions as follows :
By means of the keyboard 14, the customer keys in his/her order, using the keys 20 of the various functional units 20a-20d, and then at the end cancels or confirms the order using the keys 20 of the functional unit 20e.
With every order the electronic memorizing and processing unit assigns to the customer a progressive number which allows him/her to be served according to the priority acquired at the moment the order was made, and without having to queue.
While making his/her choice, the customer sees his/her requests displayed on the display 15, for example of the type with liquid crystals (LCD) ; the display 15 is also suitable to visualize, in a specific field 26, the progressive number of the customer who is being served at that moment, so that every customer knows how many other customers are in front of him in the queue, waiting for the product which has been ordered.
The selection and command unit 12 comprises a printer 16, suitable to print a receipt 21 or similar, for example a receipt (Fig. 3) which the customer can use to collect the product ordered.
This receipt may carry various data, including the progressive number assigned to the customer, the description of the product ordered, the total cost or other such information.
In a first embodiment of the invention, the receipt 21 is used by the customer to pay at the cash desk for the products ordered and to receive a tax receipt which, when shown to the sales assistant, allows him/her to collect the product he/she has ordered.
In the embodiment shown here, the customer pays for the products he/she has ordered when the order has been confirmed by means of a card 22 (Fig. 3) suitable to be inserted into the reader 17.
The card 22 is pre-charged with a definite amount from which the relative cost of the order made is progressively and automatically deducted, by means of the reader 17.
In this embodiment, the receipt 21 issued by the printer 16 can consist of a receipt which in itself is valid for tax purposes.
Moreover, the card 22, which can be of the type with a microchip 22a, as in the case shown here, or of the type with a magnetic strip, a transponder, or otherwise, allows to motivate customers to order more products, or to order definite products chosen by the manager of the commercial enterprise and, more generally, to prefer those commercial enterprises using the device according to the invention.
A possible structure of the card 22 is shown in Fig. 6.

The card 22 comprises a first field 27 for the identification of the customer, a second field 28 for the identification of the producer of the refrigeration unit, a third field 29 for the identification of the type of refrigeration unit 10 and a fourth field 30 for the identification of the premises where the refrigeration unit 10 is used.
With this type of card 22 it is possible to organize points systems to assign prizes or free orders, according to the frequency with which the card 22 is used and the amount of orders made.
According to the invention, moreover, by using individual cards 22 it is possible to organize lotteries or suchlike, possibly in collaboration with sponsors.
The free surface of the card 22, for example the face opposite that shown in Fig. 6, and also the display 15, can be used as advertizing spaces both for the commercial enterprise which uses the cards 22 and also for other commercial activities.
The orders made by each customer by means of the electronic selection and command unit are transmitted in sequence, by means of the memorizing and processing unit, to the electronic display unit 13 which is suitable to visualize them on the display 19.
The electronic display unit 13 includes lock-out means 31 to prevent the device from functioning, which can be deactivated by the sales assistant by using a key provided for the purpose.
In a preferential embodiment, the key, which can be either mechanical or electronic, allows to recognize the specific sales assistant so that accounting controls may be made on the work of said assistants.
The sales assistant reads the information on the display 19 which appear progressively according to the order in which the request was made, and is thus able to prepare the product according to the order of the queue.
The product is made ready and placed in a delivery zone, in this case consisting of the upper surface 10a of the refrigerator unit 10, which, for example, can be equipped with the usual multiple support devices for cones.
According to a variant, the delivery zone is located in a place remote from the refrigerator unit 10.
According to another preferential embodiment, the sales assistant assigns a progressive number to each prepared product, for example by means of a label, a card, or other means of identification, the number being the same as that assigned to the corresponding customer.
This allows the customer to easily identify the product ordered and to pick it up quickly.
In this case, the keyboard 18 of the electronic display unit 13 is used by the sales assistant both to confirm and cancel the orders as they are gradually fulfilled, and also to program the memorizing and processing unit to adapt its functioning to the number of tubs 11 available or to the type of topping or container or otherwise.
It is obvious that modifications and additions may be made to this invention, but shall remain within the field and scope thereof.
For example, the keyboard 14 may be replaced by any other interface means such as, for example, a mouse and a monitor, a touch-screen, a voice reader or otherwise. Or, instead of the cards 22 it is possible to use other identification elements such as, for example, electronic keys, CD-ROMs, disks or similar.