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Connected Kegs Help Keep Your Favorite Beers Flowing

The iKeg automated inventory system may be a godsend for bar owners.

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Here’s a refreshing idea for bar owners: An Indiana startup called SteadyServ is hoping to make the process of ordering and monitoring beer kegs smarter and more efficient.

Through a mix of hardware and software, SteadyServ’s iKeg system provides realtime inventory data, and syncs with distributors to streamline the delivery process. The idea is to make the process of maintaining tap lines more efficient, and to allow owners to anticipate demand.

Bar workers and managers often rely on an imprecise system of guesswork, literally shaking kegs to determine how much beer they have left. Often, they don’t know when a keg is finished until the tap itself sputters to a halt. Even if a bar employs some crackerjack weight guesser, it's still forced to leave one foot in the "beer cage" and the other on the restaurant floor.

SteadyServ offers a solution in the form of mobile-based live inventory management. Through the iKeg iOS or Android app, users can oversee their entire ordering process, and make decisions based on realtime keg data. The app can suggest profitable beer purchases based on regional trends, track shipments, automate social media messages, and catalog special events. Pretty soon, SteadyServ assured in an email, users will be able to monitor bottle inventories.

Over time, all this data can provide an accurate depiction of customer demand.

Credit: SteadyServ

So how does it work?

The service requires an initial 1-3 hour installation process that equips each keg in a given bar with an iKeg ring. These sensors, which are a touch smaller than the bottom of a standard keg, are then paired with the kegs using a proprietary RFID (radio-frequency identification) tag. A cellular uplink then begins transmitting weight and pressure data to the cloud; this informs users how much beer is left in each keg.

Because of the cellular uplink and installation process, bar owners can expect some significant-but-not-dealbreaking upfront fees. SteadyServ told us the installation fee is $499—plus a monthly data reporting fee, and a service charge each time a keg is depleted.

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Given this commitment, the service is likely only to appeal to serious beer bars—you know, those watering holes with 50-odd draught lines, rotating cask selections, "tap takeover nights," and an inflated sense of self-importance among the patrons. But you've ever worked behind a bar (as this writer has), you know that something like this would certainly come in handy—especially if you're in charge of deliveries.

What about patrons?

If used correctly, it's likely bar patrons wouldn't notice much of a change in service, aside from a subtle decline in the number of times the bar runs out of specific beers. That said, with more accurate inventory data bar managers would presumably stay on top of sales trends and be able to better anticipate demand. Socially savvy bar owners might also use the platform to promote specials or keep patrons abreast of their stock (e.g., a tweet: “Only 14 pints left of special bourbon-aged vanilla reserve porter!”).

The service is still very much in its infancy.

The service is still very much in its infancy, but SteadyServ is already looking to sync with point-of-sale systems, which will provide even more accurate sales data and inform owners about which brands or beers are selling best.

SteadyServ is part of a larger trend of equipping everyday “dumb” objects with sensors and mobile functionality. As the cost of sensors has dropped significantly in recent years, the simultaneous surge in mobile technology has allowed the Internet of Things to gain a foothold in modern homes and businesses. So far, these applications have served niche demands, but the implications are likely to effect everyone—even barflies.

iKeg images: SteadyServ
Hero image: Flickr user "Cambridge Brewing Co." (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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