Vending Coins for Your Vending Machine

Anyone who has worked in an office with a vending machine knows this problem well: someone wants a snack or a drink from the vending machine, but doesn’t have any small change. So, they proceed to walk around the office trying to find someone to make some change for them. It’s a hassle, and a surprisingly common one. Sure, a lot of vending machines now accept credit cards, but they’re still in the minority.

This was the problem facing Belgium-based automation company November Five. As automation and IoT specialists, their first thought was to hack the vending machine itself. But, unfortunately, they didn’t own it; as many of you know, vending machines are generally owned by the distributor. So, they needed a solution that allowed their employees access to the vending machine, without actually modifying the vending machine itself.

The solution they came up with was to attach an RFID-activated coin dispenser to the vending machine. Everyone at the company already has an RFID badge for opening doors and such, so the system wouldn’t add any burden to the employees. And keeping track of how many coins each employee used was a simple task of logging requests.

It’s a clever solution to a reality of the modern world: that most people don’t carry cash, and don’t want to. Of course, another solution could be to build your own vending machine. But, as it turns out, this isn’t quite as simple as one might think. Though it sure explains why vending machines so often fail to vend.

36 thoughts on “Vending Coins for Your Vending Machine

      1. Oh and since that is direct withdrawal it needs a live connection to the banking network, which means you need a line towards that, which means extra expenditure for the rental and a way to route that to the machine.

          1. Mobile still needs a connection, and it’s not plain internet it needs to tap into the banking network and that requires a fee to be paid, but as I said elsewhere people do not expect to pay extra for using their PIN card in a machine, but with CC american people expect/accept it.

            It’s the same how in america it’s acceptable to pay for receiving a call on a phone. They trick those suckers into paying for the weirdest things.

          1. But CCs ask a surcharge for everything, the chip and pin system in europe normally does not charge you. So because the US citizens expect to be robbed you can easily finance it, CC companies will be happy if you help them. But with direct bank transaction systems the vendor has to pay a fee for using the system and can’t get away with charging 15% or whatever extra on purchases.

    1. I just graduated from the University of Iowa and it was about a 50% chance a machine would take a credit card instead of just cash only. About 50% of the ones that did take a CC were so deep inside of large stone buildings that they couldn’t be counted on to have a stable connection to the credit card service.

    2. I just graduated from the University of Iowa and it was about a 50% chance a machine would take a credit card instead of just cash only. About 50% of the ones that did take a CC were so deep inside of large stone buildings that they couldn’t be counted on to have a stable connection to the credit card service.

  1. Most vending machine in Europe have an MDB bus, which could’ve been a far easier way to integrate an alternative payment option. You could even roll your own as long as it complies to the spec.

  2. That’s a very nice solution for a small-medium business with mostly professional employees. Integer banking is pretty easy to deal with and there’s no transactional cost. It’s convenient their system already takes token coins and the price is a round number – token coins are very unusual to see in the US (I’ve never seen one for vending) and most machines are either 5 cents off a round number or are a multiple of 25 (25 cents being the largest common coin in the US). Soda bottles can be $1.50, $1.75, or more. I’m not sure it’d be possible to accommodate those changes gracefully.

  3. If the problem is making change, why not just use one of those change machines like the ones that have been inhabiting arcades for decades? I’m all for a technological solution, but this seems a bit over-engineered and error-prone.

  4. Yep I rarely carry cash ( much to my wife’s annoyance) I also don’t use vending machines.
    All the vending machines in my place of employment are coin only ( excessively priced so I wouldn’t use them even if I did carry cash)

    Chip and pin is becoming somewhat old school in Australia – “pay wave” contactless transactions are my most used transaction method for instore purchases. And I am yet to see a contactless vending machine ( I’m sure they are out there though)

    I think the solution presented is a great one relatively simple and solved a problem that particular organization had.

    1. When I said chip and PIN I used it more as a generalized opposition to CC, the actual method of authentication is indeed moving to RFID, but that’s not the point, the point is that it’s not a CC but a direct withdrawal with no excessive surcharge like a CC.

      1. In the states, all of my credit cards are chipped. How can they not have a surcharge like the stripe?

        Is it that the credit card companies own the services for dealing with the mag stripe and the bank offering the line of credit has the transaction authority over the chip? Really confused here.

        1. I’m not talking about the actual chip or stripe, I’m talking about a bank card as opposed to a creditcard. It’s a different system, a bank card just withdraws straight from your bank account, it’s not credit. If you are out of funds it’ll say ‘not enough funds’ and you get to be embarrassed when used in a shop with a line of people waiting behind you.
          The common name in (British-) English is just ‘chip and PIN’ so I use it in that sense.
          And you generally pay a small monthly fee these days, like between 5 and 10 bucks or something like that. But originally nothing, the thing was financed by having shops pay their fee, and shops pay because it’s a convenience to customers and if you don’t have it you lose business.

          And the whole point is that creditcards are designed to get money from people by ‘lending’ them money, it’s a loansharks racket really. Whereas a bankcard is originally a way to get rid of red tape and later to get rid of branches and tellers servicing people.

          1. So you’re talking about *actual* debit cards? Because all of my debit cards these days are “check-cards” that are credit card branded and act identical to credit cards in all the ways I’ve used them. If my available balance on my (actual) credit card is less than the amount I’m trying to spend it won’t let me spend it. Same with the check cards.

            I don’t know who charges the fees or not, but I really just assumed that if it’s got a credit card logo than that company is charging to process the transaction.

            So again just to confirm, by “chip and pin” you aren’t talking about the actual physical chip and pin functionality, but you’re talking about unbranded cards that transact through the bank and not through card companies?

  5. I just wonder what happens on pay day when the employee realizes he’s spent $100 (I don’t know the key combo for euro) on chocolate bars at the vending machine with his key fob because he didn’t have to use real money

    1. On the subject of knowing the amount, it’s prepaid:
      “the Photon will read out the badge ID, look for the corresponding team member in our database, and show a message on the screen to notify the user how many coins he has left. If the user has credits available, the machine will dispense a coin; if not, it will show a message to remind him to top up his account.

  6. Wow, is the modern world that far gone that the best solution for making change is to reinvent the debit system via RFID?

    . . . Where I used to work, we had this magical machine that took larger bills and dispensed dollar coins. Can’t find someone to break a 5,10, or 20 for you? Problem solved.

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