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Check Out High-Tech Grocers

The price scanner was unveiled in the summer of 1974 at a grocery store in Troy, Ohio. The very first item ever scanned was a package of Wrigley's chewing gum.

In the not too distant future, supermarkets will use all sorts of other high-tech wonders. CBS News Consumer Correspondent Herb Weisbaum shows us what's in store.



Supermarkets are always looking for things that will help them keep prices down such as making shopping easier or getting customers through the checkout lines faster. Some new inventions promise to do just that.

When Sherry Davies shops, she makes her choices while her children, Bethany and Evan, handle the checkout duties.

At Marsh Supermarket in Noblesville, Ind., most customers still go through the checkout line the old-fashioned way.

But a few pioneers, about one in five, pick up a handheld scanner on the way in and then scan and bag their own groceries as they move through the store.

"It's just real convenient," said one shopper.

The device keeps a running total so you know how much you're spending. And if you change your mind, you can unscan it and put it back.

"It's very simple....It's like riding a bike. Once you do it, you don't forget," said Jodi Marsh of Marsh Supermarkets.

You can use the scanner in its cart-mounted holster but the Davies kids prefer the swiftness of the point-and-shoot method.

"It's a lot less stressful. I just come in, get what I want, leave, and I really like it," said Sherry Davies.

At Stew Leonard's in Norwalk, Conn., there are exciting things to entertain you around every corner, singing animals and fun food.

But hidden among the singing milk cartons and dancing butter sticks is a piece of quiet new technology designed to end the all-too-common problem of price tags that say one thing while the register says another.

This store uses a state-of-the-art electronic shelf tag so managers can change the price by remote control.

When a price is entered into the master computer for the cash register, it's sent to infrared transmitters scattered throughout the store. They send out a signal to all the shelf tags. And as quick as you can say, "Price check in aisle five," price tags and cash registers are in sync.

The system lets store employees spend more time stocking shelves and helping customers. It eliminates pricing questions at checkout.

Some new technology you won't find in stores, just yet. At the IBM research lab in Hawthorne, N.Y., Veggie Vision, a scale that can actually recognize different fruits and vegetables is in development. IBM's Mike Siergiej demonstrated how Veggie Vision works.

"It looks for color, shape, size, texture, and then from that it changes that into a mathematical formula, sends it to the computer, looks for a match, brings back a picture of what we hope is the right piece of produce, or fruit," said Siergiej.

Not only can it tell a tomato from an orang, but it knows the different varieties of tomatoes and other produce.

When the machine can not distinguish the variety, Veggie Vision gives the clerk a few choices to pick from. And, yes, it works through plastic bags.

The same optics found in copy machines is used in Veggie Vision, according to IBM. In two supermarkets overseas, tests of Veggie Vision are just starting.

But if a store lets shoppers scan their own groceries won't the management be worried some folks might sneak a few extra things into their bag? Anyone who signs up for the personal scanner program knows there will be random checks. Shoppers may be asked to let a cashier rescan their bags.

And the folks at Marsh's in Indiana say so far that shoplifting hasn't been a problem.

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