According to Smithsonian vending machines have been around since the first century A.D. and were invented by Hero of Alexandria to dispense Holy Water at temples. The vending machines of today still dispense water (although not the Holy kind) but it does not stop there. If you have visited Japan you may have noticed vending machines dispensing live crabs (albeit in a state of hibernation) and in Germany you will soon be able to buy gold from a vending machine!
From Holy water through to gold the fundamental principle of a vending machine remains; money goes in and product comes out. These days however ‘money’ can include a whole range of things from cash to credit card to pre-loaded smart cards or even payment from your mobile phone! And as we’ve already seen, the ‘product’ vended may be any one of a plethora of items. Convenience has taken on a whole new meaning.
The traditional vending machine, and the ones we use here at Savvy, are snack and drink or ‘combination’ vending machines. They are fairly impressive pieces of equipment and although they come in all shapes and sizes they can be effectively considered a large, often refrigerated, cabinet typically containing five or six trays with a set of spirals resting on each tray. Each spiral holds a number (approximately 10-20) of the same product and upon user selection a motor at the back of the vending machine rotates the selected spiral to push the products forward until the front product falls off the end and into a tray for collection by the customer. Vending machines can usually be configured to accommodate most snacks and drinks and even food such as ready meals and pot noodles.
The ‘brain’ in the vending machine is effectively a small computer that performs the role of registering the customer selection and instructing the relevant spiral to rotate. The software in this computer also often incorporates innovative additional functionality such as the ability to confirm a vend was successful by way of a laser sensor in the tray and energy saving modes to reduce electricity consumption in low use periods.
We’ve come a long way since the first century A.D.