Sunday, May 29, 2011

Coke Designs a New Vending Experience

Coca-Cola has designed a new way to get their drinks in cups. The new Coca-Cola Freestyle is a touch screen soda fountain introduced in 2009 and slowly being rolled out across the country. The main attraction is many more choices than have ever been available before. The slightly retro oval dispenser opening provides a comforting nostalgia to a futuristic experience.

The Coke Freestyle machine provides over 100 different carbonated and non-carbonated Coca-Cola drink products and custom flavors with a simple interface involving a touch screen to select your drink, a lever for ice, and a button to dispense the drink. The machines include flavors not previously available to the American market including Orange Coke which was previously sold only in Russia and the Baltics,and flavored Dasani waters. (For some reason there is no ginger ale or lemon flavoring.) Residual flavor in the single spout slightly contaminates subsequent drinks but it is usually imperceptible.

The brightly lit starting touch-screen shows 22 brands owned by Coke including Barqs, Seagrams, Minute Maid, Pibb, Dasani, Hi-C, Powerade, Vault, Sprite and Fanta as well as their own Coke variations such as Coke Zero and Diet Coke. After selecting one of those brands the next screen shows six or seven varieties of that product. If a product supply is depleted the icon is dimmed.

Without any instructions or labels on the machine, first-time users take a few seconds and a couple of trial-and-error moves to figure out how it works. First, you still have to go to the register to pay for a cup and take it to the machine. Many over-fill their cup with ice by depressing the lever inside the opening expecting the beverage to come out at the same time. A button above the opening blinks brightly and users quickly see that the beverage is dispensed separately. (Coca-Cola enlarged the overspill chute so users can experiment with flavors and pour away test drinks and added a fan to melt discarded ice-cubes.) Users usually make one quick press in case the button is the type that dispenses a predetermined amount and quickly see that you need to hold the button down until the cup is filled. Trial-and-error or watching other users only takes a few seconds and then you're good to go. (Click on the heading above to see a short video of some users experiencing the machine for the first time.)

The Freestyle machine is made possible by microdispensing technology originally developed by Dean Kamen's DEKA research to deliver extremely precise doses of drugs. Microdosing blends one or more concentrated ingredients in 46-ounce packets with water and sweetener at the point where the beverage is dispensed, avoiding the traditional 5-gallon boxes of syrup. The machine uses RFID chips to detect its supplies and to radio resupplying needs to other units and transmits supply and demand data to both Coca-Cola and the owner including brands sold, times of the day of sales, troubleshooting information, and service data.

Customers choose a base product and then an additional flavoring. Coca-Cola, Diet Coca-Cola and Caffeine Free Diet Coca-Cola are all available with vanilla, lime, raspberry, cherry or orange flavoring. Coca-Cola Zero is available with cherry or vanilla flavoring. Sprite and Sprite Zero are available with cherry, strawberry, grape, peach and raspberry flavorings. Powerade ION4 and Powerade Zero sports drinks, Fanta and Fanta Zero, which already has an orange flavor, as well as Hi-C are available with fruit punch, lime, grape, strawberry, peach, raspberry, or cherry flavoring. Minute Maid Lemonade and Minute Maid Light Lemonade are available with cherry, orange, raspberry, or strawberry flavoring. Dasani still water and Dasani Sensations carbonated water is available with lime, peach, orange, grape, strawberry, raspberry, or cherry flavoring. Vault Red Blitz energy drink is available with orange, grape and peach flavoring. Additionally, Pibb Xtra, Pibb Zero are available. Barq's and Diet Barq's root beer are available from the machines with vanilla flavoring.

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