How the Pandemic Revolutionized Vending Machines

Now you can get everything from PPE to cuts of meat from machines

Vending machines
Vending machines are evolving before our eyes.
catrina farrell/Unsplash

For the last year, medical professionals and governing bodies have advised people to minimize contact with others if at all possible. That’s one of the reasons more and more retailers are offering curbside pickup, why delivery companies are abounding and why automats are having a resurgence. There’s also another method of contactless interaction that’s seen an expansion during the pandemic — vending machines.

But we’re not just talking about your basic vending machines offering chips, candy bars and soda. A new article by Laura Reiley at The Washington Post explores the way the last year has prompted advances in this sphere, and created a space for the technology to produce things you never expected to see in a vending machine.

What’s covered in the article? Vending machines that dispense everything from pizzas to cupcakes to shrink-wrapped meats. Upscale vending machines are cropping up where there’s been a dearth of dining options — the article cites airport terminals, where the pandemic has shuttered some restaurants, as a growing market for them.

In the article, Reiley also explores the ways in which vending machine makers are testing out ways to minimize surface contact. For some, that means making a vending machine that’s compatible with an app, where people can do their ordering. For others, it’s involved the creation of touchpads where hovering is sufficient to indicate what someone would like to order.

Food isn’t the only thing that high-tech vending machines have been selling as of late. Over the summer of 2020, the MTA began using vending machines to sell PPE within subway stations. It’s a fascinating expansion of an old technology — but whether it will affect the world of retail and food service after we emerge from the pandemic is a big question.

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