Saturday, February 04, 2006

Starbucks Vending Machine with Hot Coffee!

So, I was helping out at the Minnesota First Lego League competition this weekend, an engineering/science competition for high school kids. All of the judges have an engineering or software background, and one of the refs saw a really cool vending machine. It's a Starbucks mahine that dispenses canned coffee, but it's hot! And it even takes credit cards. I wish I had a pic of the can it dispenses... it's a metal pop-top can, with a plastic and laminate "bumper" so you don't burn yourself.

So, what happens when you have a bunch of engineers see a cool vending machine? They try to figure out how it works! Especially how it takes credit cards, and how it can dispense a hot can of coffee. When you pay, a little LCD display says "preparing drink", a progress bar shows, then it drops the can.

It was so funny, one of the refs looked behind the machine, and saw only a standard 120V power cord... but no telephone cable. There was actually a little antenna at the top of the machine, so we guessed it used the cell phone network to verify the credit cards.

And, we were guessing how it heats up the coffee. Since the can appeared to be steel, we thought it's probably an induction system that rapidly heats up the can and the coffee. (like the induction cookers for hot pot) I remember seeing a vending machine in Japan with hot drinks, but that machine seemed to keep cans in a 'hot' area, since it instantly vended.. but this one required some time to heat. And it didn't seem to be chemical, since the can didn't have a false bottom. Anybody have ideas on how it might work? It was pretty cool, but funnier to have a bunch of engineers trying to figure out a simple coffee vending machine.

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