Ian Binder Head of Industrial

The future of vending

Industry 4.0 is a term we hear to describe how technology and artificial intelligence will re-shape and disrupt society into a new information and interaction age.

With the imminent arrival of self-driving cars, advanced robotic technology and higher level retail experience in the form of smart products, we take a minute to consider how the world of vending may evolve and what opportunities could arise. Also how a next generation of consumers may influence this.

In the first series of articles, we look at vending in a smart city.

people walking on a city street with smart icons hovering over their heads

Smart Cities

Survival as a product in a smart city is all about value, not just technology and information for the sake of it, but how it can help people and communities. I recently attended a talk by Andy Burnham MP on this very topic and his perception of helping young people and communities evolve with technology was a real eye opener for a humble engineer like me. As young citizens contribute to society, they get rewarded with city credit such as free travel and with wider opportunities in careers and apprenticeships. His message was to think about using technology for bigger ends to equalise communities and help the less fortunate, not leave them behind.

Some pilot cities are already looking at things like lampposts as an example of infrastructure for data gathering with a wealth of sensors talking to each other and not just monitoring but gathering data to alter behaviour and help improve living environments. KD’s home, City of Bristol, is in fact one at the forefront of this; look up the ‘Bristol is Open’ program to see some of the fascinating work currently going on around us.

So we need to ensure our thought process with regard to development is around learning and continual improvement based on genuine data. Easier said than done of course.

The Future of Vending

Vending machines are prime hot spots to feed into social behaviour and offer more than food and drinks. This is because of several factors such as location (public or businesses of all sizes) and the fact that they are a communal meeting point.

It’s fair to note that consumer experience has steadily grown as technology and quality have been the focus of the vending industry for some time.

image of hand holding a smart phone, ordering a drink on a vending machine

Looking further ahead, what else could be on the horizon?

  • Could vending machines share data with other devices such as air quality monitoring in the work place environment, and how oxygen levels or temperature affect productivity in the work force?
  • Could a clever machine identify hydration levels in someone stood in front of it and advise the healthy drink prescription?
  • Could it recognise you (some manufacturers are already exploring this) and if so how could it help you through your day (maybe payment via recognition or biometrics so no need to carry money), or could it be a portal of local information snippets whilst getting your beverage?

Changing the norm

Take the example of Pokemon Go changing the face of gaming from an indoor static environment to an outdoor social environment. Now apply that type of thinking to vending. As a customer approaches a vending machine whilst looking at their smart phone, they see a table in front of the machine (on their screen) with all the products laid out. They could select and spin product through the phone’s touchscreen and examine product details such as nutritional value. When the product is selected, the phone automatically pays, and as they swipe their finger across the screen, flinging the item towards the machine, it dispenses.

Instead of forming a long queue of indecision, there could be multiple people looking at the available products either while standing in front of the machine, or even from their desks saving valuable time and enjoying the experience.

Companies would get a bigger platform for their goods, be able to monitor behaviour and could develop interesting and engaging features beyond the world of a fabricated machine.

Naturally the possibilities just keep growing as technology progresses but in the end it’s about value and manufacturers may find they have to earn their place in the future smart city structure by bringing something additional to the party. It’s going to be fascinating to see where smart city thinking will take us, not just in vending but in everything around us.

Next time…

Look out for the next installment of The Future of Vending Part 2, where I will focus on lifestyle and health.

Find out more?

Get in touch with Ian Binder our Head of Industrial