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A new tech solution for the social drinker

  • Pepsi are set to release a social vending machine later this year
  • Customers can send drinks to friends via a social network
  • Tech analyst questions if machine will keep personal data
  • Latest in vending machine technology that has seen gold and live animals sold from machines

(CNN) -- The days of sliding a few coins into a vending machine and waiting for a can of soda to tumble down are now numbered.

Last week PepsiCo unveiled a prototype of a "social vending system" branding it as "the next generation in interactive vend technology."

The machine features a touch-screen that allows users to buy a drink as well as gift one to someone. By entering the recipient's name, mobile number and a personalized text message, the machine generates a code and instructions on how to redeem the beverage at another social vending machine.

There's also the option of personalizing the gift with a short video recording at the machine itself.

PepsiCo says users can even buy a drink for a complete stranger, calling it "Random Acts of Refreshment."

There will be more attempts to tie in any kind of technology into the social web.
--Nicco Mele, social media analyst

"With this machine, our goal is to transform a basic transaction into a unique experience," said Mikel Durham, chief innovation officer at PepsiCo Foodservice.

"The social vending machine is part of PepsiCo's responsibility to deliver brand experiences at every touch-point of people's lives and beyond the confines of their own devices. We're empowering our consumers to connect with their friends at yet another point of contact- right at purchase."

Decades-old rival Coca-Cola Co introduced a similarly forward-looking concept in 2009 when they started testing their "Freestyle fountain drink machine". It also had a touch screen that could dispense more than 100 flavored drink combinations. However

PepsiCo has gone further by incorporating a social element with its gift-sharing function.

"We began exploring social and mobile applications a few years ago with Loot, DEWmocracy and the Pepsi Refresh Project," said Durham.

"Now we see transforming our equipment as simply the next logical step." Durham says that the company plans to trial the social vending machine later this year.

Vending machines have come a long way since the first coin-operated vending machine that dates back to the early 1920s. The first modern beverage vending machine came along in 1937. Since then they've been used across the world to sell products ranging from luxury goods and gold to live crabs in China.

Nicco Mele, a social media expert and a lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School, said the release of a social vending machine was long overdue.

"The social vending machine makes sense as a device that is localized as people are now accustomed to connectivity everywhere with their mobile devices. It fits into the trend of being social in the space that you are in, in the same way social networking platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare do," he said.

With a recent Unity Marketing trend report pointing to gift buying as the second most popular reason shoppers turn to the web, Mele also feels that PepsiCo will benefit from the internet's well-established gift-giving economy.

However, with access to personal information, Mele outlines the concerns that could arise about privacy and the storing of personal information.

"It's a problem that's inherent with most social networking systems," he said.

"One way to tackle privacy issues would be to modify the 'terms of services' note that pops up before you go through with any online transaction. It's usually incomprehensible and useless but if it is written in a clear manner that is user-friendly, companies can be more open about the personal information they have access to and store."

Mele believes that computerized social vending machines may just be the start of everyday technology becoming more social.

"There will be more attempts to tie in any kind of technology, whether it's your vehicle, your photocopier or your vending machine into the social web because that's where people are spending their time and that's where brands are seeing a market," said Mele, adding that he would buy a drink from Pepsi's social vending machine and even engage in a "Random Act of Refreshment."


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