The first record of a vending machine is from Ancient Greece, when Hero of Alexandria recorded a device which automatically dispensed holy water in Egyptian temples. In the 1600s, machines which automatically dispensed loose tobacco were in taverns, but the payment was separate from using the machine.
The first coin-operated, fully automatic vending machine was invented by Percival Everett in 1883 and soon became a fixture in British post offices and railways stations to sell envelopes, postcards, and notepaper. It wasn’t long before the machine came to the US to sell gum and other sundries.
Today, the vending machine is known for beverages and snacks, but they also sell everything from electronics to clothing. What’s next for the vending machine? Here are some of the exciting innovations driving this industry today.
In 2013, three UC Berkeley students invented the Dreambox, a 3-D printer that is also a vending machine. Users can select from pre-loaded files to purchase, like a plastic shot glass, or have custom files loaded into it to print whatever the user desires. While at first this seems like a simple exhibition of technology, consider the possibilities. A 3-D printer vending machine in an airport or other busy area could contain any number of pre-set designs for items like clothing, umbrellas, even food. As 3-D printing technology evolves, so will these vending machines.
In late July of 2016, vending machine industry leader Parlevel Systems announced the addition of a calorie disclosure tool to its vending management solutions. Since the FDA established requirements that calorie counts must be displayed on all machines owned by a company with more than 20 vending machines, Parlevel saw the opportunity. The technology allows machine operators to print a report at the press of a button which contains all the information which the FDA requires be displayed. This page can then be posted on the vending machine. This helps companies stay in compliance without worrying, especially in machines where product lines might change frequently.
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One area where Coca Cola has been pushing innovation is in integrating their loyalty program into their vending machines. With the “MyCoke” app, loyal drinkers can still accrue points from their vending machine purchases, and even redeem them at select machines. Coke is also pushing the envelope with allowing digital wallet payments.
Data Sharing and Networked Solutions
In 2009, a task force known as the Vending Data Interchange (VDI) was formed by the National Automatic Merchandising Organization with the express purpose of establishing standards for monitoring and transmitting data at the machine level. This can mean anything from processing credit card payments, to product selections by the buyer, to error messages automatically transmitted to the owner company. Today, the VDI’s first set of standards are in place and providing valuable guidance during this time of rapid innovation and growth.
It’s clear to everyone that vending machines are a lot more complicated than they look. Next time you buy a soda, a snack, or a 3-D printed rocket shot glass, don’t take that technology for granted.