Vending machines — what the industry today calls “automated retail stores” — have become so ubiquitous that they’re easily taken for granted. Can you remember a time when, for example, you couldn’t drop some change into a nearby machine and get a cool beverage?
For most of their history, automated vending machines focused primarily on giving retail consumers quick access to products. Only recently have they merged with inventory tracking software to create more powerful and effective inventory control systems. The wasteful days of searching for nonexistent tools and manufacturing supplies in a cluttered supply closet are rapidly coming to an end. The new breed of non-consumer vending machines knows not only who is checking out which tools and supplies, but can automatically order products when supplies are running low.
That's where vending machines have arrived, but it has been a long time coming — probably longer than you think. Automatic vending predates even the discovery of electricity.
The following infographic highlights a number of advancements in vending machine technology over the last 2,000 years — from dispensers of sacred water through the first refrigerated consumer-goods units to automatic airport kiosks that vend MP3 players and other higher-priced technologies. And this progression will surely continue into the future.
What weird, wild, wonderful things do you expect to see (or would you like to see) in the vending machine industry in the coming decades?