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A vending machine is quite an interesting thing, other than existing since the early 20th century and now being as universal as sliced bread, the future direction for these vendors is just as fascinating as the stuff they dispense. So, I’ve decided to share with you my choice of the top 10 vending machines, and discuss how the marriages of new technologies and ‘convenience’ are revolutionising our fast-moving tech-savvy consumer culture.

Image credit: cntraveller.com

10. The Affluent one
Given the rising number of affluent visitors to London, St Martins Lane Hotel in Covent Garden found a need to unify luxurious novelty souvenirs with the convenience of vending. The Semi-Automatic by The Design Museum offers extravagant men’s watches, wallets and lamps amongst other things, in what seems to be a lavish attempt to appeal to London’s wealthy visitors and build brand prestige.

Image credit: groeneofferte.nl

9. The Boris-Bike one
Dutch design agency Springtime has come with up an alternative approach to the widely used city bike rental schemes. Bikedispenser is self-styled as ‘the world’s most compact fully automated bicycle storage and rental system’ and meets a need to store a substantial number of bikes in a compact and safe environment – 50-100 bikes per dispenser.

Image credit: k6.co.uk

8. The Transparent one
The WaterWerkz PouchLink is a vending machine that dispenses drinks made and packaged in real time before the consumer. The concept got me thinking about how to expand on this theme of consumer-centricity; why not go one further and let the consumer choose combinations of flavours and packaging? Giving the consumer more choice in what they’re purchasing solidifies the notion of trust, quality and by association; transparency in what they’re purchasing leading to a closer relationship between the brand and consumer.

Image credit: nocigarmagazine.com

7. The Promotional one
The connection between vending and promotion is quite apparent, but does it work effectively? Sony has come up with an innovative way to communicate its promotions – as a form of direct advertising – for its waterproof Walkman headset. Here’s the clincher; they’re for swimmers, they’re packaged in water and specifically positioned in vending machines located at gyms with swimming pools. Other than this genius marketing message (demonstrating the headphones really are waterproof), the potential for vending machines to become tools for product positioning is huge.

Image credit: vendingmarketwatch.com

6. The Inclusive one
One of the most common practical problems of vending machines is that for the most part; they don’t work effectively. The stigmatism of unreliability is common but more so, it is usually from fault of the vendor than the consumer, through wrongly navigating the machines user interface. This of course puts fault back on the machine for being confusing to use; in fact you rarely see any commonality between controls on varying machines. However, this variant from USI, called the iCart has been developed using a human-centric approach, whereby considerations to usability and practicality have taken precedence over design traditions and CMF (Colours, Materials, Finishes). As a result its interface is simple, user friendly and works effortlessly.

Image credit: farmersfridge.com

5. The Counter-Culture one
The consumer perspective of vending machines is of unhealthy fast convenience foods that have long shelf lives. Farmers Fridge sits beside many of these junky siblings in the Gravey Food Court in downtown Chicago, but offers something completely different to what is expected of a vending machine; fresh, organic food. This green alternative offers a wide range of healthy snacks from fresh salads to my personal health favourite – kale. I love that they’re doing this, it’s a creative and inventive way to help stem the rise of obesity and our obsession with junk food, through a means that is both familiar to its targeted demographic and to its ‘consumer antithesis’.

Image credit: thegatewaypundit.com

4. The Liberal one(s)
Helping to address a controversial  societal problem, the marijuana vending machine was recently unveiled by authorities in Colorado. They hope it will help distribute the newly legalised drug to ‘age’ and ‘legally’-specific purchasers. Regardless of your views on cannabis laws, this could be a way to do it safely and legally.


Image credit: urbanmines.org.uk

3. The Sustainable one
The Reverse Vending Corporation is a company producing vendors that flip the ideals of vending on its head; instead of purchasing items from the machine – you sell them back. The most widely used variants are for bottles, where you can place a bottle into the machine and receive a fee for doing so; pretty handy if you need some change for that trolley (they’re usually located in supermarkets). The potential here is quite momentous; mixing the convenience and prolific nature of vending machines with recycling.


Image credit: it-onlinemagazin.de

2. The Smart one
The excitement and buzz around the impending emergence of ‘the internet of things’ got me thinking about how this might look in vending. Well it’s already been developed by SAP, and it looks quite cool! Smart vending machines offer tailored consumer service, interspersing aspects of social media and experiential advertising with intelligent product positioning and new technologies. This means all you need to do is ‘sign in’ to a machine using your phone and it will instantly recognise you; you’re friends and everything associated with your preferences and recent purchases. Consequently, users receive a more personalised experience whilst the vendor gets a greater understanding of its customers and is able to react to changes in the market.

1. The Revolutionary one
So here it is; the big reveal. So we’ve looked at 9 directions of vending machines and how they’re striving to find and accommodate consumers in different ways. But I’ve found a certain type of machine that, despite being relatively new and underdeveloped; promises to truly transform the way we vend for everyone. For years now, 3D printing has gained press for being a revolutionising technology, and it’s expanded its reach into vending. This machine by Oreo showcased at SXSW Festival ‘prints’ your own personalised cookie that is created through association with trending topics on Twitter. The possibilities this could have are truly mind boggling, and offers yet another direction for this promising technology. #EattheTweet

Food and beverage – nourishing, hydrating, stimulating and refreshing. But what happens when you throw a bit of science and technology into the mix? In our blog this week we’ll be taking a look at how the food and beverage industry has been shaped and influenced by technology from other sectors; and where science, technology and art cross over to create whole new experiences…

Image credit: ABSOLUT Unique from ABSOLUT Vodka
Featured image credit: The Future of Food, cover illustration for Icon magazine 104 by Zim and ZouManufacturing inconsistency
From an industry where heavy investment goes into creating consistency for mass manufacture, ABSOLUT Vodka took a very different approach last year to one of their new editions to the Absolute family. The ABSOLUTE Unique campaign explored and reflected the times we are living in through the utilisation of technology to create more personalised experiences for consumers. By re-engineering their production process, ABSOLUT created a series of bottles each featuring a unique design. Using splash guns, colour-generating machines and a specially developed algorithm, individual patterns were placed onto the bottles. Using just 35 colours and 51 patterns, they created nearly four million uniquely designed bottles.

Image credit: ‘Makr Shakr’ robotic bartender by MIT senseable lab + Carlo Ratti  

Crowd-sourced flavour creation
The food and beverage industry hasn’t escaped the crowd-sourcing phenomena either; researchers at the MIT senseable city lab developed a robotic bar tender in collaboration with the Coca-Cola Company and Bacardi. Named ‘Makr Shakr’, consumers were able to create personalised cocktail recipes in real-time using a specially designed app and transform them into crowd-sourced drink combinations. The concept behind this development wasn’t to replace ‘the human touch’; instead it explored the possibilities offered by digital manufacturing technologies, pushing the boundaries of shared sensorial experiences through social media and principles of co-creation.

Image credit: 3D printed pasta prototype by Janne Kyttanen

Technical textures
Artists and designers continue to push the boundaries of technology, sometimes through product improvement and sometimes through provocative narratives. Janne Kyttanen’s 3D printed food exploration touched on both of these elements. Using plastic as a medium for exploration, intricate shapes for ‘pasta’ were created using 3D printing that not only looked beautiful, but also revisited the relationship between form and surface finish to capture sauce.

Image credit: The Sugar Lab, 3D printed sugar 

Moving from niche to known
3D printed food has been explored quite a lot in the past few years through various ingredients from chocolate to cheese and sugar, like these amazingly complex geometric shapes from The Sugar Lab. Personalisation and niche applications has been the mainstay for this technology of late, but developments in this area could soon be taking a leap forward following the news last year that NASA is funding research into the technology for food development.

Image credit: Star Trek food replicator

New frontiers of personalisation
NASA’s exploration of 3D printed food aims to see if this technology can be utilized to provide astronauts with more variety, enhanced nutrition, texture and flavour in meals during long space missions. “The printers will combine powders to produce food that has the structure and texture of actual food.” It may conjure up images of Star Trek for many, but the possibilities of creating food and even entire meals through the ‘digital space’ is probably closer than we may dare to think!

Elevating this type of technology away from the niche and the novel highlights the deeper rooted benefits it could pose in the future. Such as; how could we utilize these developments to redefine ‘supply and demand’?  Could we cut food waste in the future? Find a way around distribution issues? Or, even start to tackle famine?

It seems that now designers and scientist have had space to ‘play’, its time to understand the real benefits such technologies could pose in the future of food development.



Wearable technology is becoming more common place through products like Nike+, but there are still many questions to be asked about what the future holds and how consumers will accept the ‘new normal’ for wearable technology. Our Principal of Design and Innovation, Oliver Stokes, writes for Techopedia on the future of wearable technology. The full article is available here.

The notion of wearable technology is one that we recognise and has been around for many years since brands such as Burton Snowboards launched jackets that allowed ‘boarders’ to control their iPod through soft switches in the arms.

Image credit: Google, Featured image credit: Nike

From a design perspective there are exciting developments in technology right now that are promising products such as Google Glass that will deliver alerts and information about your internet life through a heads up display (HUD) imbedded in a pair of glasses. However for me the exciting future lies with what some are calling ‘Smart textiles’ or ‘E-textiles’ that can measure your heart rate, blood pressure, motion etc all within the construction of the textile, removing the need for a physical ‘device’. This vision builds on products such as the Nike Pro TurboSpeed Suit which was used in the London Olympics to help athletes cut through the air more efficiently. Imagine the future where such a suit will also be able to record your speed, motion and bio-metrics to determine where you lost 2 tenths of second, or that your stride length was too short in the last 20m! Maybe your body will eventually be able to provide the energy to power systems such as a human dynamo. This future is not as far away as it seems and self-initiated groups such as the Quantified Self (QS) are pushing forward the boundaries in this area, researching and developing technologies that monitor your health / behaviour, the communication of the information and applications of use.

Image credit: Fitbit

The other thought that occurs to me when discussing wearable technology, is how all these different systems that we wear will begin to communicate with each other and form their own place in a cloud-based system of interlinked services. In a projected future world your trainers will tell the energy drink in the fridge that you need more protein today after your run, before the drink bottle tells the fridge how many are left so the fridge can update your supermarket order and all while your data is shared with your doctor, who will remotely monitor your health. In this type of connected world products like Fitbit or other wearable technology will be evaluated initially on how the eco systems they sit within handle the immense amount of data they will create as they crave to operate effectively. But ultimately products that interact with us so intimately will be judged on how they communicate this data and engage with us in providing a useful experience – that will be the true test of a product and service’s longevity. (This highlights an area that for me has not been fully resolved in current wearable offerings).

Finally if one considers where such a trend would lead then things start to get very science-fiction like. Comparatively it was not that long ago that a phone always had a cable, before we embraced carrying a phone with us everywhere. If wearable technology and Smart textiles continue to push the development of products as seamless systems, then surely the ultimate future will be all about sub-dermal implants to measure and interact with your body!

Google Glass
Nike Plus
Quantified Self
Burton Snowboards