Vending Machines Offer Everything from Fresh Meat to Robotic Empathy

When most folks go out for a juicy rib-eye steak, they don’t drive to the nearest vending machine. That might change if a new venture in upstate New York takes off. Applestone Meat Company stocks a new line of vending machines with beef, pork, lamb, and sausage–and business is booming. According to the owner, Joshua Applestone, people need 24/7 access to protein, and as he says, “I have to restock the machines constantly to keep up with demand.”

Obviously, the products need to stay fresh, appealing, and safe. Applestone’s goal is to place meat vending machines in every city, but he concedes that certain locations might need security guards. If criminals are willing to knock off ATM machines, then glass-front slots with thick pork chops and T-bone steaks would no doubt attract carnivorous thieves.

This meat market automation isn’t surprising in an age when vending machines have gone digital and high tech. Most countries have machines with credit card access and local versions of “exotic” goods. In the United States, Snickers, Dorritos, and Twix are among the top sellers, but some selections reflect the eat-healthy trend. A “veggie machine” called the Farmer’s Fridge is one example.

The vending craze is most notable in Japan, the country with the most machines per person. Items range from the traditional green tea or curry rice to flying fish soup and sushi socks. As the saying goes, you can buy anything but a handgun from Japanese vending machines. The latest trend seems to involve vending machines with robots. This video shows how a cute robot makes an ice cream cone for the consumer, and this clip indicates that a company plans to use robots that can “read human emotions.” They hope coffee drinkers are lured into buying their high-end product from an analytical robot in a vending machine.

The new meat vending machines in New York probably won’t have such empathy. Pay your money–get your meat. But innovation will continue, and no doubt somewhere soon, a robotic butcher in a vending case will tell us the difference between sirloin and strip steak while deftly wielding a knife. “Remember,” the computerized voice will say, “if you’re not supposed to eat animals, why are they made out of meat?”

Note: For another look at the hypnotic appeal of vending machines, click here.  

by dan gogerty (top pic from JenniferMay, and bottom pic from

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