Robot Steals Soda From The Vending Machine


It’s very hard to tell from this photo because of the super bright blue LEDs, but this soda machine is being robbed by a robot.

We don’t condone theft, but neither does the creator of the project. [Ioduremetallique] is really just problem solving; doing something because he can. And we’d bet this type of thing will end up landing him a high-paying job some day (we’re assuming he’s currently in school).

The project is shown off in the video after the break. The gist of it is that a compact robot arm is put into the drop area of a vending machine. After the flap is closed the wired remote control is used to raise up the telescoping arm, and grip the soda can with the grippers. It’s brilliant and devious all at the same time. The entire video is in French, but the YouTube captions translator actually worked quite well with this video. To turn it one, use the ‘CC’ icon on the bottom of the video. We had to select the French captions before it would allow us to chose English from the translated captions list. About four minutes in we get a great look at the hardware itself… a super hack!

[Thanks William]

45 thoughts on “Robot Steals Soda From The Vending Machine

    1. Well, at least I know I am not going mad in thinking that I’ve read this before.

      Putting aside the legalities, (if you read the youtube comments, it is a pretty neat build considering it was hobbled together with parts.

  1. This was featured just a few days ago! But also, the text mysteriously changes from 10.5 point font to 10 at where it says:

    “The entire video is in French, but the YouTube captions translator…” etc. Just a heads up!

  2. I am impressed by the stability and the precision of the device. It looks like junk glued together and, yet, it moves really well. Well done, sir. It’s been a honor being robbed by you. ;-)

      1. That challenge will be all the more impressive since twinkies have gone the way of the dodo.

        On another thought:

        How many cans would you have to swipe to have broke even from the cost of the robot?

        Is the spiral pop dispenser a European thing? I’ve never seen them used for anything but candy here on the East coast US.

    1. Word. Once I “accidentally scored” 5 crates of soda. What should’ve lasted me some 2 good weeks worth of fanta, went down in 3 days. I effin’ loathe it now, and wouldn’t drink it again not even if it was free.

  3. I had an idea, most vending machine like this one have the “SurVend” technology. I uses an IR beam to detect a product falling. I was thinking you might be able to fool the sensor by emitting your own IR beam.

    I assume the beam is sending an encoded pulse to the sensor (otherwise any source of IR could fool the sensor)

    Step 1: Record the beam using a digital camera
    Step 2: Use microcontroller to play back the recorded pulse train through an IR led
    Step 3: Profit

    1. A digital camera wouldn’t have enough frame rate. A photodiode and microcontroller might do.

      Also, if this beam detects a falling can, how are you aiming to cheat the machine? By telling it the can hasn’t fallen, so it sends a new one? Would that work? Where even is the beam? What’s the machine try to do when the beam isn’t broken? Basically, what’s your method

      1. @Greenaum. The trick is that when you put a coin and buy something, if it doesn’t fall (or isn’t detected) after a few seconds, the machine gives back the money. If you can trick the IR Sensor it’s done.

    2. I would be mildly surprised if there is encoded data on the IR beam, I doubt they considered the potential of that attack (at least in the older ones like I have at work).

  4. I’ve often thought about making one of these, for crane machines or other stuff where the machine is abandoned in a hallway (no cameras), but I don’t need whatevers in there more than the guy whose trying to make a living with the machine, so I never start on the project.
    If I can afford to build this, I can likely afford “the prize” inside.
    And if you build one and show it off to your friends, those that don’t “understand” the builder/problem solver in you will just think you’re a thief. Hard to undo that in a persons mind.
    This is cool, but if I told “my mother” (the litmus test) what it’s for, she would not be impressed.
    You may also use the baby jesus, brian boitano, or chuck norris.

    1. That would be a howl !!! Remove product A, replace it with Product B.
      Invent products, put in empty containers, have a finger or a lizzard tail sticking out.
      Uh, can you say product tampering???

  5. That doesn’t look easy or cheap to build (compared to the worth of what you’re stealing). If I was putting a robot inside a machine I’d rather have it look for a way to open it from the inside.

    1. That’s because the point of the machine is not theft. Defeating a security system with a drawer slide and some old printer parts is the entire point of the build. Retrieving the soda can is merely the way to score a goal.

  6. I’d sooner go for the machines with the bags of crisps (or potato-chips if you prefer).
    I wonder though if that would be easier or harder, those bags are lighter but on the other hand harder to grasp since they are of a less defined form and have give.

    BTW I read that coca-cola vending machines sometimes have a code that allows you access to the computer service-menu with various options.

  7. We did something similar back in my high school days but it only worked on the food vending machines as they were similar to the machine in the video… Our drink machines were the old style you could not see inside. We has several vending machines located around campus that were in low/no traffic areas (i.e band rooms, sports rooms, etc..) We built a scissor lift like device out of Lego Technic and rolled it left and right manually and the lift original had a articulated claw, but we found that an arm (that slid in and out) was just as effective and less prone to breaking off inside the machine. Pretty much anything in the lower half of the machine was ours for the taking.

    Granted… I knew the guy who worked the machines so I worked out a deal with him, I kept track of everything I took and paid him on the side, and he let me do it to keep up my school cred. :)

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