Shops around Phoenix have been rolling out the new customizable Coke machines. These are called Freestyle Coke machines and they let you make your own flavor from 106 different combos. The entire thing is driven by a touch screen, and has sub-menus to help you refine your flavor. For example, if you pick Diet Coke, the next screen lists Diet Coke Vanilla, Diet Coke Cherry, Diet Coke Orange, etc.
Sociologically, it is hysterical watching people faced with this overload of choice, standing there with their cup in front of the machine as if taking some sort of strange test. Added fun is watching them taste some of these bizarre flavors for the first time. Many are, in technical terms, butt-nasty.
Technically, I wondered how these things worked. I got lucky today as I stopped in while one was having its soda cartidges changed. I snapped a few quick pics.
This is the admin screen that pops up when a flavor cartridge is being changed (click image to view on Flickr and see larger version). The user takes a flavor cartridge of concentrated syrup and swipes it near the lower right of the top panel of the machine. It senses which flavor it is (RFID, I assume) and goes into maintenance mode. It pops open the access panel (below), and brings up the step-by-step admin screen that you see above. Here he is changing a Powerade cartridge.
Once he is done, he just uses the touchscreen to step through the rest of the replacement process. The machine can tell when flavors are not only running dry, but also approaching their expiration date. He said the OS is a custom system written by Microsoft. I asked him if any of the sodas Blue Screened, but he didn’t seem to get the joke.
This is the open panel on the bottom half of the machine. Each of the flavors is in a long cartridge that slides into a slot. It reminded me immediately of a printer with ink cartridges. The major flavors are in the bigger cases, with the modifiers (grape, orange, etc) in the narrow ones at the bottom. When a cartridge is slid into place it is clamped down with a little latch. A status light initially showed red, but switched to green once the machine accepted the new insert.
Old cartridges are just thrown away. The guy working it said the syrup is so highly concentrated that if you get any on your clothes, you are just going to have to throw them away. Every cartridge replacement required closing the access door and letting the machine come back online. Then he would swipe the next cartridge and repeat the process. This seemed rather inefficient from a human operator perspective, but I imagine make the machine easier to troubleshoot and program.
You can click the pictures for larger versions on Flickr. I tried to get as much detail as I could without getting in his way. These are cool little machines, and it was interesting getting a peek inside.