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Coca-Cola reveals AI-powered vending machine app

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We’ll spare you the jokes about sugar water. As a powerhouse in the beverage industry, Coca-Cola has made AI a central part of their technology landscape. Now, they have a new addition.

At MB 2017, Greg Chambers, the Global Director of Digital Innovation at Coca-Cola, took the stage to reveal some AI news. The company now sells products in over 200 countries worldwide (10,000 drinks from Coke are consumed every second all over the world); Chambers explained how AI is going to power next-generation vending machines.

You may have already noticed how vending machines have advanced in recent years when you go to a movie. For example, some theaters have a vending machine that uses one dispenser but allows you to select from multiple Coke products using a colorful touchscreen. They are fun to use. Chambers says that’s only the beginning.

“My goal is to push boundaries and push the brand forward,” says Chambers. “AI is the foundation for everything we do. We create intelligent experiences. AI is the kernel that powers that experience.”

Chambers says one of the most annoying things today is that they could serve two drinks on a vending machine. The app, which launches in about two weeks in places like Knoxville, TN, at universities in the US, and in places like Australia and New Zealand, will allow you to order a Coca-Cola drink for yourself and a friend, then have it available on the vending machine. (It’s a brand new circuitry that powers the way hardware works with the app, says Chambers.)

“As humans we build emotional connections to machines and with products,” says Chambers during the session. “We will do this in new and exciting ways. You should enjoy the process of acquiring a Coke as much as you enjoy consuming a Coke.”

The app will adjust to the vending machine requirements. Chambers says, at a college, the vending machine and app might have a fun personality whereas in a hospital it might be less about the “fun” involved and more about the utility and functionality.

Lauren Kunze, the CEO of Pandorabots, which worked with Coca-Cola on the vending app, says the personalization involved is a key feature in the vending machine bot and next-gen machines.

“Bots help brands reach customers on the channels that they prefer, enabling personalized, two-way communication at scale,” said Kunze. “This is especially valuable for Consumer Packaged Goods companies and other verticals where third-party distribution channels mean that, historically, the brand does not have a direct line of communication with their customers.”

She says AI is also one of the best ways to gather customer feedback.

“Vending and sampling are two examples of previously anonymous, transient transactions that, when combined with a messaging interface, allow the brand to gather user feedback and track data, like individual purchase history and preferences, to remarket and personalize offers,” she says. “I expect QR codes, particularly at POS systems and in print and television ads, to be especially powerful in bridging offline to online and opening a persistent thread.”

It’s an interesting use of AI and bots, because — as Chambers noted — the idea of ordering a beverage is supposed to be easy and fun. Chatbots can provide a wealth of back-end data and drive up revenue, but they are also fun to use and a good match for any consumer.

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