Thursday, December 9, 2010

Vending Machines

I love vending machines; have ever since I was a little kid. There's something magical about getting something out of one of these contraptions. You put in money, press a few buttons, and out pops something great.

I think my love of vending machines started with my mother's workplace. Every so often her job would make its employees to do mandatory overtime, which would sometimes require her to go in on Saturdays. Seeing as I was too young to be left home alone, I would frequently go with her and camp out in the break room while she worked (it was a secured building, so the stranger danger was at a minimum). So there I would sit, watching “The Smurfs” on one of the break room televisions, and playing with whatever toys I brought along with me. Naturally I would get hungry during this, so my mother would usually leave me with a supply of coins to use in the vending machines.

I loved getting things out of the vending machines. The one full or chips and crackers where you would press a couple of buttons, and the shiny metal screw would turn and drop a crunchy treasure down for me to grab. The refrigerated machine with the carousel inside of it full of sandwiches and chocolate milks just waiting behind the little doors. Not only was pulling open one of the little doors to get the food out neat, but just making the machine turn so that you could see all of its contents was fun.

I suppose part of my love of vending machines also stems from my dislike of dealing with people. I love using ATMs instead of having to go and talk to a teller. I would much rather use the self checkout than be checked out by a cashier. I generally prefer deal with a machine instead of a real person as long as the machine works the way it is supposed to. I know, most people dislike this kindof thing, but not me, the less I have to make inane small talk with a cashier who would really just prefer I go away anyway, the better.

Given the aboce, it will likely not surprise you that I have not lost my love of vending machines as I have grown older, if anything it has grown, and I love finding new types of machines. It doesn't matter if the machine produces something new or unusual, or if it just serves its product up in a new way. I remember seeing an ice cream vending machine like this one at a Chuck E. Cheese:

Of course the thing didn't actually work, and everyone I saw use it had to get a CEC employee to come and open the unit up and get them their frosty treats, but I was still impressed with the idea.

Then there was when these drink machines started showing up:

I mean how cool is that? Rather than just bombing your soda down and getting it all fizzed up inside, it gently lowers the soda and almost hands it to you. Sure it's just a soda machine, but the delivery method is fun, and it means you can have glass bottles (Snapples, Frappucinos, etc) in them safely now.

Of course there is only so impressed you can be with your average chip and soda machines no matter how advanced they may be, which is why some people have stepped it up a notch. We're all used to seeing Redbox machines now (although how many of us ever saw the old, and much larger, VHS vending machines/buildings?), but what about other non-food items?

I'll admit that I was quite impressed when I first saw one of these in my local Macy's:

Not that I have purchased anything out of it, mind you, but it is still pretty awesome.

I also hope this catches on:

While not really a vending machine in the traditional sense, the Espresso could certainly be refined into having a vending machine-like interface, and it would be nice for anachronistic people like myself who still like to get our book on paper. Also, it would be nice for new authors in general; imagine being able to go into Borders and print out your own personal copy of “Mallville – A Journal of the Zombie Apocalypse”.

As neat as things like that are, it was food machines that made me first love the vending machine, so how are people bringing food vending to the next level? How about a popcorn vending machine?

Or if you prefer cute over pure functionality, there's this lovely little number (from Japan of course, since they seem to truly appreciate the vending machine over there in a way we still do not):

Want something a little more substantial? Maybe some french fries:

Or pizza:

It's just too bad there aren't any of these around here. I know I would hit up the fries and popcorn machines often. On second though, maybe it is good that there aren't any around here. I don't need any more calories.

Ultimately what I would like to see is something like the old Automats:

but done with the current generation of vending machines. Can you imagine it? Going into a restaurant and not having to deal with a living being, but just put your money into the machine, tell it what you want, and in a couple of minutes your food pops out all hot and ready to do. It would be lovely, and someday it will happen. I look forward to that day.

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