Vending machines used to be boring: you make your food or drink selection, pay for it, and pick up your order from the machine’s dispenser.
In the beginning, vending machines could serve nothing more than gumballs, candies, drinks, and snacks.
But the vending industry has come a long way from being boring. In the north of the UK, vending customers looking for food-to-go have gone up to 11 million while the vending machines in the midlands have over 10.3 million customers annually. And around the world, the vending industry is expected to soar.
Yes, the industry is growing and so are its machines! While hot drinks, snacks, and canned beverages are still staple offerings, vending machines have gone on to offer so much more – from books, live crabs, personalised drinks, to 3D printed designs!
Join us as we take a look at 11 amazing things that modern vending machines do.
You’re at the office working overtime when hunger strikes. The office fridge is empty and the local resturant has closed for the night. But you do have coins, enough to grab a bite from the vending machine down the hallway.
You insert the coins, make your selection, and eagerly wait for the machine to dispense your snack – but it got stuck! No amount of nudging can get the snack out, and the worst part, you’re left hungry and without any money.
If there’s one shortcoming of old vending machines that frustrate people the most, it’s their inability to return your money when nothing is dispensed.
Fortunately, modern vending machines like the CoffeeTek Step don’t suffer from such shortcomings.
The hot drinks machine has an I-Detect system to ensure a cup (along with your beverage) is dispensed every time, and it also lets you place your own cup. And should the machine fail to dispense your order, the Step gives your money back.
3D printing has made it easier for designers to bring their designs to life.
But what if you can take your design – a set of chess pieces, hard-to-find hardware parts, an iPhone case, or even a pair of high heels – to the local grocery and print it right before your eyes?
If creating and getting your designs as easily as buying a can of Coke sounds like a good plan, enter DreamVendor 2.0. The on-demand 3D printing machine is based on a prototype of the same name, developed by the mechanical engineering department of Virginia Tech.
The original machine uses 4 Marketbot Thing-O-Matic 3D printers, each loaded with plastic of different colors. This 3D printing and vending machine works just like a home 3D printer, but it’s larger, sturdier, and supports multiple users.
Virginia Tech’s mechanical engineering department described DreamVendor as a “vending machine with infinite inventory.”
Users only need to plug in an SD card with the 3D printer code of their design, sit back, and grab a coffee while the machine gets to work. DreamVendor 2.0 prints the design and places it on a bin for picking up.
Today’s employees rely on computers to work, which means keyboards, power cables, USB sticks, mice, and other IT essentials need constant replacement.
The process of getting replacements for broken computer accessories varies from one workplace to another. For most employees however, the process is anything but smooth and quick: requests are forwarded to the IT department, forms must be filled out, and managers need to approve the request.
Bottom line, what sounds like a fairly straightforward process ends up costing a lot of time and productivity.
Facebook, however, seems to have found the antidote: small digital kiosks that dispense power cords, replacement keyboards, and other must-have IT accessories. The replacement accessories are free, and a swipe of a badge is all it takes.
For Facebook employees, the IT vending machines eliminated the need for hitting up the IT guy and waiting for hours (or even days) for IT essentials. And as an added bonus, the company even reduced the cost of managing replacement accessories by about 35%!
Vending machines that serve pizza may not sound impressive, but vending machines that serve freshly baked pizza? Now that is unheard of!
Italian entrepreneur Claudio Torghele took comfort food to a whole new level with his creation – the Let’s Pizza vending machine.
The Let’s Pizza unit (which is 3 times the size of an average vending machine) mixes flour with water and presses the dough to create a 10.5-inch base. The machine then adds the toppings you want and flash-cooks the pizza using high-temperature infra-red oven set at 380 degrees Celsius.
The result: a freshly baked pizza pie in less than 3 minutes!
The Let’s Pizza machine also carries a range of vacuum-packed ingredients and lets customers choose between 4 recipe options: classic margherita, prosciutto, speck and salami.
And thanks to its massive frame, the unit can store enough flour and tomato to dish out 100 pizzas before refilling.
Do you love to write but hate the pain of trying to get published? Don’t worry. A vending machine has your back covered: the Espresso Book Machine.
Known as EBM for short, the vending machine has the access and ability to print and bind over 3 million different books (including out-of-prints) – and it does so impressively: top-notch paper and ink quality, flawless binding, the ‘feel’ of a standard edition (even includes the ISBN number), and a printing rate of 100 PPM!
Matter of fact, the Espresso Book Machine only took 9 minutes to print “Crime And Punishment,” a 540-page Dostoevsky's classic!
Writers struggling to publish their book or find agents soon became the book vending machines’ top customers.
On Demand Books, the company behind EBM, responded with some really nice features for authors including the ability to write, collaborate with other writers, and design professional-looking book interiors and covers; file conversion process to generate print-ready and fully formatted files for paperback books and ebooks; author services and more.
All of which features are linked to the Espresso Book Machine technology!
Japan has the highest number of vending machines per capital with 5.52 million machines nationwide generating $62.5 billion in revenue. The competition is stiff, and to stay in the race, manufacturers need to come up with creative ways to make vending engaging and even more convenient.
The average vending machine is very disconnected: you touch the image of the drink you like, pay for it, and the machine drops your choice using a dispenser.
So to boost sales and collect important information about what drinks are popular with which age group, JR East Water Business unveiled their next-generation vending machines – machines that know you and craft their sales pitch based on your buying habits.
Yes, JR East Water Business’ smart vending machines talk: “Oh you're about 20 and female. Would you like a trendy drink?”
The personalised and smart vending machine detects when someone is near using 3 motion sensors while the tiny camera located just above the 47-inch display estimates the buyer’s sex and age.
The voice function, on the other hand, greets customers depending on the time of the day and season with its pre-installed calendar functions – saying “Good morning” during mornings or “Thank you for being our customer this year” when the year is about to end.
Human interaction is one of the reasons why coffee shops will never go out of business. Having a barista greeting you and having a friendly chat with you as you walk in is always nice.
Plus, a barista can remember your choices and personalise your order accordingly. That’s something a vending machine can’t do – or can it?
CoffeeTek’s Step vending machine won’t greet you when you’re nearby, and it can’t talk like a barista. The machine, however, can personalise your coffee or chocolate drink exactly the way you want it.
The Step’s In-Touch selection system lets you fully customise your beverage – from adjusting the sugar, adding the right amount of milk, to preparing it weaker or stronger.
And the coolest part: the machine remembers it! Once you’ve perfected your hot beverage, the machine gives you a Quick Code – a unique number – so you can pick your drink without going through the selection process again.
If you think vending machines are only capable of dispensing hot drinks and fruit juices in cans or tetra packs, think again. Vending machines can be healthy too!
The JuiceBox vending machine from Westomatic is built from the ground up to serve customers with 100% pure and fresh juices minus the preservatives, sugar, and unhealthy additives.
The JuiceBox may have a small form and modern yet simple look, but the technologies the machine uses to deliver fresh fruit juices are anything but basic!
The Westomatic vending machine uses an advanced UV sanitation system, ensuring the water is free from any impurities. The built-in Brita and 3M filters, on the other hand, rids your juice of any scale deposits, maintains the drinks neutral pH, and removes unpleasant taste and odors.
Furthermore, the JuiceBox’s flash cooling technology keeps your fruit juice cool by chilling the water when you select your drink.
Books, 3D printed designs, freshly baked pizza, IT accessories – you can conveniently get just about everything from today’s high-tech vending machines. What about prescription drugs?
Turns out vending machines have that covered too! Back in 2010, 2 pharmaceutical vending machines were tried and tested by the popular supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, hoping to speed up customer queuing times.
For customers of the UK supermarket chain, the introduction of these vending machines made getting their monthly prescription drugs a breeze. Sure, it was unfamiliar at first but people got used to it very quickly.
Customers use a unique ID or fingerprint along with a PIN for entering their prescription and collecting their medicine, making sure that the drugs go to the correct person.
Even better, one of the machines trialed in one of Sainsbury’s West Sussex store employs a video link, allowing patients to consult pharmacists for advice.
And thanks to the video, the pharmacist can check the prescription; conduct a full patient medical history; verify patient identification; and take payments before authorising the machine to dispense drugs.
Yes, pinch-free crab vending!
The idea isn’t new. Back in 2010, Shi Tuanjie of Gaochun Double Lake Crab Company owned a crab vending machine based in Nanjing, which sold 200 crabs day in and day out.
The vending machine boasted a lot of crab-savvy features that kept the hairy crabs live and fresh. The machine maintained a temperature of 5 to 10 degrees Celsius, enough to preserve the crabs in a dormant state for far longer than possible had the crabs been kept in a stall.
Moreover, the crabs were also sheltered in a ‘crab villa,’ a multi-tiered box designed to make the crustaceans feel as if they’re inside a cave.
The crab villa was later upgraded to the Golden Armor, a container that made crabs feel at home like its predecessor. But unlike the crab villa, the Golden Armor is edible, which means you can drop the container (with the crab in it) straight into a pot of boiling water to minimise the risk of pinching.
Today’s vending machines have come a long way from serving crisps and snacks.
Festival, a machine from N&W, can handle and serve crisps and snacks just as well as your average vending machine. But what sets it apart is its ability to serve fresh food, making it a fully automated canteen with 24/7 catering services.
The machine boasts a slide-in and slide-out cooler unit that users can easily access and replace. The 8 to 10 drums (with 35 compartments per drum) ensure you have enough supply of fresh food and snacks to cater to customer’s demands – from small snacks, drinks in cans, fruits, yogurts, to 9-inch plated meals!
And thanks to its advanced electronics and cooling unit, the snacks, fruits, and meals stay fresh and tasty ‘round the clock!