Old School Vending Machine Learns New Tricks

Thanks to craigslist [Chris] got his hands on a soda vending machine circa 1977. It still worked just fine (because things were still built to last back then) but he wanted to add some super-secret upgrades to the beverage dispensary. Two capacitive touch sensors were added to override the need for coins for those who know where to caress the beast, and iPhone support means that frothy beer is just a touch away.

The capacitive switches are using the same QT100 chip we saw in the game of life from last year. The whole thing runs off of a Phidgets board which we’ve seen in the past using iPhone control to launch rockets. See a demonstration of the features in the clip after the break. We’d love to do a hack like this but the problem is once you’re done, you’ve got a vending machine sitting in your house.


25 thoughts on “Old School Vending Machine Learns New Tricks

  1. Paypal’s Acceptable Use Policy states:
    Service Requiring Pre-Approval
    Offering online dating services; providing file sharing services or access to newsgroups; or selling alcoholic beverages.

  2. They aren’t selling alcohol to anyone though. They could always change it to say something about making a donation if paypal complained. Fun idea nevertheless!

  3. but does it cool well. soda machines used r-12 in 1977, and unless you have your own supply of it(or update it to a newer refrigerant like hot shot, major upgrades to the refrigeration unit are going to be needed. also in 1977, some of these machines were susceptible to having salt water poured into the coin slot, it would register excessive coin drops and start spitting out change, usually in nickles. ah the memories.

    1. If the refrigeration system is not damaged, the R12 should still be in it and do it’s job. Like in my fridge at home. This is no car a/c system which looses refrigerant through the shaft seal, it is a hermetically sealed system.

    2. You (or someone who does this regularly) can purchase refrigeration subsystems. My company once worked on a vending machine project where we did exactly that. The whole compressor/condenser/cooling unit comes on a pallet, in whatever capacity/voltage/configuration you choose from their catalog. IIRC, ours was shipped from Brazil, but my point is that these things are modular, drop-in replacements must be available.

      There are companies that refurb/upgrade old Coke/Pepsi/Moxie machines and you can buy them for a thousand or two or three, depending on age. desirability, features.

      Update: it’s called a “compressor deck” and these folks sell them: http://www.vendorsequipment.com/foundations/store/scresults.asp?category=300*Compressor_Decks

  4. could someone explain to me how a vending machine operated by an Iphone makes any sense? you must go to the machine to get the beer in the first place, now if the iphone could see the inventory of the beer why say you were at the liquor store, that would be useful…

  5. I’m willing to bet these are younger people without kids that own this machine. Why not make some of your mooch friends buy there own beer here? Sounds like a good idea to me.

    I think this more about the novelty of having a vending machine. I’m pretty sure practicality didn’t even enter into the situation.

  6. practicality is for animals! iPhone interface is great because you can tap a button as you walk towards the machine and have the can fall in to your hand right as you reach for it.

    The cooling works very well. No idea if the refrigeration was upgraded after it was manufactured, but I can say it serves up a soda colder than my real fridge.

    legally, we’d like to say that people buy the right to see us drink a beer, or perhaps its just a donation that we then celebrate by toasting a beer.

  7. Nice project, until I saw that they were donating part of the proceeds from selling the machine to Kiva.


    Microfinance institutions are decidedly evil. The basic premise is that these are corporations, not charities.

    -not a charity
    -parasitic institutions associating themselves into the act of charity
    -high interest rates
    -kiva farms out loans to other groups within countries
    -no data on collections or defaults
    -teaching that relying on debt is OK
    -huge amount of money spent on marketing
    -success stories falsified
    -western power structures, control, etc.
    -spiral of debt

    Sam Daley-Harris –

    “…there is still a bit of deception in the notion that the moment that a loan is funded, the client in Kenya or Cambodia receives his or her microloan with those particular dollars. Indeed, there are real people receiving real loans to start or grow real enterprises, but if a client in a remote village qualifies for a loan, the MFI will not likely make that client wait for the Kiva lenders to put up that last $25. Said another way, loan funds are fungible, and a larger MFI on Kiva’s website will use Kiva’s loans as one important source of their lending pool, but it’s not actually those precise dollars going to that precise client.”


    “…for September 2009, only 4.3% of loans were disbursed after Kiva users had fully funded them through the site. And probably some of those the local lender had already committed to make before Kiva users had funded them. And in a new report on what happens to investors when microfinance institutions collapse, Daniel Rozas computed from data on kiva.org that the failure of just three lending institutions caused 93% of all Kiva defaults to date. No doubt many of those institutions’ borrowers were faithfully repaying at the time of collapse. Conversely, if a borrower defaults, the lender will often cover for him in order to maintain a good reputation on Kiva. So whether you get your money back as a Kiva user depends overwhelmingly on the solvency of the lenders, not the borrowers.”

    The premise of Kiva is a sham.

    Another thing about micro-financing is that make things extremely unstable.

    Back in 1999 in Nepal, there was huge speculative market for growing organic fruits and herbs. Things like strawberries and coffee to be produced in a small scale so that it could be exported to niche markets in the west.

    The ease of access to credit and the heavy marketing of organizations like Kiva made it seem like taking loans would be a win win situation. Poor farmers got duped into taking out loans by either seeing an ad, or be some entrepreneur who used the farmers clean record to take more loans.

    But since no infrastructure existed to export the produces, no proper expertise for growing the products, and the west never wanted products from the Nepali market anyway, every single one of those loans got defaulted. The farmers got saddled with debt, people killed themselves, entire villages economies gone. But, hey, you gave them credit right? Its their fault for not using it properly, plus you get your cash back anyway, no big loss.

    Basically, microfinance institutions as they exist now, serve no other purpose than to create speculative bubbles. Organizations like Kiva dont provide any support, no education, no explanation other than some brochure and one on one talk with a sales rep. Problem doesn’t lie in the fact that people have no access to credit, the issue is that 3rd world countries cant penetrate the world market, cant compete, and dont have the resources (not credit, i’m talking expertise and knowledge), to compete in the messed up capitalist system.

    Its small things like this, no one will ever hear about or will ever record becasue it will be scoffed off as some ill informed speculation, when the true culprit is the presence of the MFI’s.

    Amusingly Thomas Dichter from the CATO institute (yes that one) has written books critical of microfinance, which should be a massive warning signal in when the intellectual bastion of libertarians thinks its problematic:

    here’s an article from forbes (which is you know, forbes): http://www.forbes.com/global/2006/1113/026.html

    Bloomberg article on predatory microlending in Mexico:

    Why can’t we have microfinance that more honestly presented itself as a business transaction rather than clothing itself in the language of charitable giving?


  8. I made this:

    I just never cared enough to blog about it and send it in to Hack a Day. It’s been on for over a month and has dispensed over 800 bottles of “soda”.

    It’s an italian 70’s vending machine with a thin client and a relay card inside. (No ardunios here!) It twitters and makes loads of useless graphs.

  9. Older vending cools better than even a brand new one. R12 kicks the crud out of the new freon replacements.

    BUT, the compressor motor is probably horribly inefficient. Changing that to a modern one would probably cut electric use by 2/3. plus insulating it.

  10. @Ryan Leach, if you just want free soda out of it, it probably already does it. There’s some how-to site on security flaws in modern hardware (I forget and am feeling lazy right now, but google is your friend); long story short: most vending machines have a “secret code” that you type in by pressing the product vend buttons in a particular order that puts the machine into “debug menu” mode, and usually, hidden bowels deep in the debug menu is a vend product option (for testing purposes only of course).

    1. On the machines I worked on, access to those features requires use of an electronic access token. You have to send a code with that before any configuration can be done. The door probably has to be open also. My experience is 10 years ago, so it may be even more sophisticated now.

      One thing I learned while working with vending machine manufacturers: they are dedicated to preventing you from being able to get free product. I mean, they stay up at night figuring out how to make their machines more secure. If a machine is opened, they ship it back to the design group and figure out how the thieves got in and redesign it to eliminate that vulnerability. It is inconceivable that they would allow a hole that big in their security.

      So no, I don’t believe that any machine out there in the wild can be so easily induced to dispense free product. There are only two major US vending machine manufacturers and they are both much smarter than that.

  11. @Mikey: Not so much. There is a debug menu feature on all recent Pepsi and Coke machines, but the coin payout and vend options have been turned off (via the configuration switches inside, if I understand correctly) on every machine I’ve looked at, which is in the dozens.

    All the debug menu can do is show you how much money the machine has made in its lifetime, and possibly how much is in it at the moment. You could also read error codes off it, iIrc.

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