In December 2010, a vending machine dispensing 24-karat gold pieces began operating in a mall in Boca Raton, Florida. Although it’s the first of its kind in the United States, another one is coming to Las Vegas, and others already operate in Japan, Spain, Italy and the United Arab Emirates. So even though gold may seem like an unusual candidate for the vending machine, it’s not a new concept.
Meanwhile, there are other products that have found their way into the world’s vending machines that run the gamut from inspired to just plain bizarre. So click ahead to see what unusual products can be found in vending machines around the world.
By Daniel Bukszpan,Special to CNBC.com
Posted 28 Jan 2011
In Japan, vending machines are everywhere. It’s not uncommon to see a dozen lined up in a row where a store once stood, and in some cases they serve consumers more effectively than a store ever could. After all, when you’re caught in a rainstorm and all the stores are closed, finding a machine that sells umbrellas is very convenient indeed.
It’s also true that Japanese vending machines also dispense commodities for which the need is often less urgent, such as neckties, iPods and, in at least one case, crustaceans. In Osaka, you can use the “Sub Marine Catcher” machine, which allows you to catch your own live lobster with a descending claw similar to that found in many carnival games. It will set you back 100 yen, and since an entirely self-service operation, be sure to bring your own rubber bands and perforation-proof bag.
There is also a US version, called "The Maine Lobster Game," so you don't even have to make it out to Japan to experience this mechanized lobster-grabber.
After dancing all night in five-inch heels, even the most dedicated party girl will have to concede that the pain in her feet is almost crippling. However, what is the gal in the Blahniks to do when the club is closed and so are all the shoe stores?
In the past, the answer was “suffer.” However, women now have the opportunity to purchase Rollasole ballet flats from vending machines outside of multiple London night spots, bringing her instant comfort and relief.
The shoes cost 7 British Pounds, a small price to pay to get rid of the searing pain associated with dancing in high heels. The machine-vended shoes have been successful enough that other companies have sprung up to offer their own, such as Afterheels, which offers a list on its Web site of both their products and the clubs where their vending machines are located.
No matter how conscientious a parent you are, someday you’ll forget to bring something essential with you that your baby needs, like milk or a sippy cup, or even diapers. The Diaper Bag Basics vending machine at St. Paul, Minnesota’s Maplewood Mall addresses this eventuality, stocking every baby care essential one could possibly need, including bottles, wipes and, yes, diapers.
Owners Stephanie Hughes and Jennifer Boog, both stay-at-home moms, came up with the idea after forgetting to pack things that nobody with a small child would want to find themselves without. They plan to open more machines in 2011, at locations like airports, zoos and museums, where the sight of panicked parents rifling through diaper bags for misplaced items is a common one.
A vending machine that dispenses beverages may seem very ordinary, but this one actually selects your drink for you. The JR East Water Business Company has invented a vending machine that uses facial recognition software to determine a customer’s age and sex, and make recommendations based on the information. So when the machine detects a 35-year-old male, it will recommend a highly caffeinated energy drink, while recommending green tea to a woman in her fifties.
The machine also recommends different beverages depending on the temperature and time of day. The recommendations that the machine makes are based on tireless hours of market research, and so far, the company that created it claims that beverage sales have tripled since its introduction. The machine is currently only in use in one location, at a train station in Tokyo. However, plans are underway for the addition of five more.
Selling eggs in a vending machine is an idea that most would consider impossible. After all, wouldn’t the eggs shatter after being dropped from the rotating spindle? Well, the Japanese found a way to pack and dispense the eggs to protect them from that kind of damage, and photos of the machines they used started making the rounds on the Internet.
In 2010, Tom O’Brien, an Irish farmer, developed a vending machine of his own to sell his free-range eggs. Sales exceeded his expectations, mostly thanks to his customers’ delight at being able to buy eggs on the same day they were harvested. O’Brien intends to set up four more machines, and his ultimate goal is to use the machines alone to sell his 5000 hens’ entire production.
InstyMeds manufactures a vending machine that dispenses prescription medications. The company already has machines in emergency room entrances in 37 states, and in December 2010, the company rolled out the first in Wyoming, at West Park Hospital in Cody. The machine provides both convenience and peace of mind for patients, caregivers and anybody else who can’t wait until the pharmacy opens tomorrow morning.
Patients wishing to use the machine are given an authorization number by the physician, which they enter into the touch screen. After verifying date of birth and processing the credit card payment, the medication is dispensed. That’s it. The machines only dispense medicine for immediate, acute care, such as pain relief and antibiotics, and are not used for chronic care medications. However, for anyone who’s ever brought a shrieking infant with an ear infection to the hospital at 2 am, that’s good enough.
The Dutch company Springtime won the 2007 Spark Design & Architecture Awards for the Bike Dispenser, a vending machine that does exactly what its name says. For the same amount of money as a bus ride, users can rent a bicycle and ride it to any destination, then drop it off at another vending machine, just like a rental car. However, unlike a car, the bike generates no pollution and consumes no energy.
The rental stand is comparable in size to an ordinary vending machine that dispenses drinks or food, so it can be installed at train stations, parking lots, shopping centers and anywhere else where easily accessible transportation might come in handy. The bicycles have radio-frequency identification technology too, so vendors can keep track of them rather than hoping people will use the honor system.
When people think of food sold in vending machines, they mostly think of pre-wrapped snacks like potato chips, cookies and popcorn. However, in 2007, Wonder Pizza USA set out to change that by introducing a vending machine that prepared and served a nine-inch pizza inside of two minutes, with three different varieties to choose from, all for the low price of five dollars.
The technology used to create the vending machine was realized at a cost of millions of dollars, in a process that consumed five years’ worth of research and development. The unit is said to have held more than 100 refrigerated, uncooked pies and features an electrical oven to warm it, ensuring that the final product is delivered to the customer with the desired crispy crust, and without microwave technology.
Unfortunately for the Pizza world, Wonder Pizza USA's websitehas been suspended and the dream of vending machine pizza seems to be a mere memory.
Even the most avid sportsman is not above the occasional lapse in memory, and just such a lapse will cause the fishing enthusiast to forget his chum bucket at home from time to time. Fortunately, you can now get live bait out of a vending machine at any time of day or night, leaving you more time to enjoy the rod and reel.
Owners of live bait vending machines have reported that the units require constant upkeep, which is unsurprising considering all the minnows, leeches and grubs that have to be cared for until the moment of purchase comes. However, owners have also said that the machines do good business, since many fishermen keep hours early in the morning when stores are not always open.
Most American hotels have vending machines, and the famously upscale Mondrian South Beach in Miami is no exception. However, rather than stocking Fritos and Tic Tacs, they sell Corvettes and gowns by Jean Paul Gaultier. You can still get the standard items at the concession, since even the most urbane traveler will need to replace a toothbrush every now and then. However, those are found right alongside the 24-karat gold handcuffs.
In an interview with The Daily Mail, front office manager James A. Bryant III said that the machine generated a fair amount of impulse buying, despite the fact that it sells products that in some cases fetch more than $1 million. “People just pass by it, and literally even if they weren't thinking about buying something, they sort of buy into the idea. They want to purchase something cool; it's almost a story to tell - really an experience.”
The Japanese sell live lobsters out of sidewalk vending machines. Not to be outdone, the Chinese now boast a vending machine in the city of Nanjing that dispenses Shanghai Hairy Crabs. The machine stores the hapless beasts in a refrigeration unit that keeps them at a temperature of 41 degrees fahrenheit, the temperature at which the crab enters a state of hibernation.
The crabs are sold at prices ranging from $1 to $7, and the operator has posted a sign on the machine stating that in the unlikely event that the crab you purchase is dead, you will get three live ones for free, in order to encourage you to put this whole messy dead crab business behind you.
Medical marijuana became law in California in 1996. Physicians recommended it for pain associated with such conditions as cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis, and by the time a decade had passed, there were more than 2,000 dispensaries, co-ops and clinics across the state. In 2008, the first medical marijuana vending machine went into operation in a Los Angeles pot dispensary, offering a new avenue for patients to get their 'wacky tobaccky.'
The machine was invented and patented by dispensary owner Vincent Mehdizadeh. Any patient approved to use the drug can buy it in advance, and then pick it up at one of the machines, provided they don’t want to buy more than one ounce per week --- that’s the maximum amount of cannabis that any patient is allowed to buy.