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When your great, great grandparents were very small children, the mere notionof winking, blinking, flashing metal robots capableof exchanging nickels for frozen chocolate ice creamwas just a crazy daydream.But now?It's science fact.

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Welcome to the world of tomorrow—today! Stainlesssteel, safety glass, and plexi-chrome vending machines have evolved so gracefullyover time that now even the most jaded and suspicious of adults can finallytake them for granted. Combined with new advances in soda can delivery, snackrack dispensary, candy spiral arm technology and credit card verification techniques,it's easy to see why vendingmachines aretruly man's best friend. Beepboop! Take me to your leader!

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Would you liketo establish a career in the automated retail arts? Americans feed vendingmachines over $22 billion each year, but the vending industry is fraught withhazards—including the everpresent need to combat negative public perception.Vending machines represent the earliest physical manifestation of corporatedownsizing and far-fetched notions that a person could ever be replaced bya thing. They'renot always associated with quality merchandise, and there's even a perceptionthat vending machines can't be trusted. Paid-for Snickers and unreachable Twixhave too often dangled like mistletoe from coiled dispensaries which failedto deploy. Client satisfaction and trust are similarly eroded when there'snobody around to complain to. Accountable operators travel all over the state,and their full phone numbers are rarely prefixed with 1-800.

Responding to allegations of poor customer service, companiesdeveloped'smart' vending machines which are meaner and twice as aggressive. Themost advanced venders come equipped with temperature-sensitive electrothermographs whichincrease the price of a drink from $1.00 to $1.50 on particularly hot afternoons.Ratios between frequency of use and the passage of time can also be established,enabling machines to charge more for drinks at heavily-populated outdoorsocial events. The logic is as follows: if there's a long, steady pattern ofcoin clinks into the machine, increase the price by 25 cents after every tenthclink.Decrease theprice when disgruntled customers start walking away and there are fewer sales,or your internal balance register indicates a steady sequence of violentblows or determined kicks.

In Why We Buy, CEOand Envirosell, Inc. founder Paco Underhill describes the vending machinesof tomorrow. Nearly one-fifth of all Americans will be 65 or older by the year2025, necessitating drastic changes in the way businessesconduct automated transactions. The failing eyes and arthritic fingers of seniorcitizens have already forced vending machines to adapt. Large, rectangularbuttons which dispense cans of Mountain Dew are growing larger, mucheasier to push, and they're increasingly self-illuminated—preferably withenormous photographs of the desired product in question. How much moneydid I just put in? What am I buying again? Where am I? Innovations in vendingmachine user interfaces translate directly into other devices, too. ATMs willneed to grow phatter, doper, and more pimped-out in an effort to woo seniors.The buttons on mobile phones and TiVo remotes will be similarly big-boned,growing more colorfulwith each passing year and taking advantage of embedded liquid crystal displayssuitable for 'dim lighting conditions,' even thoughit's high noon and the sun is directly overhead.

Who will stock these machines of the future? AnneRawland Gabriel, author of StartYour Own Vending Business, chronicles a newer, hipper demographicof vending machine operators mysteriously referredto as those belonging to GenerationsX and Y. Unlike the technology industry,where 'innovation makes millionaires overnight,' Gabriel remindsus that today's v-commerce entrepreneurs must actively pursue cost control,aggressive marketing, exceptional management, and just plain hard work. Onpage five, one can experience an interactive sidebar containing this FunFact:GenerationXers are big consumers of hand-held foods!

Yes, itall started way back in Generation G, when in 215 B.C. an enterprisingyoung lad named Hero from Alexandria published Pneumatic— a modestcollection of blueprints containing some of the craziest devices the worldhad ever seen. One contraption was a specialized, self-contained urn, whichactually squirted holy water whenever a patron of the church inserteda coin. It was simple gravity-based lever system: the weight of a single coinwould angle a funneled pan forward and down, splashing God's cool liquidrefreshment directly into your waiting lap. Talk about a time saver.

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Sadly, Hero's whimsical invention couldn't discern realcoins from fake ones, leading to inevitable thefts of the blessed waterby Roman officials and copper-pinching church goers. He died without ever seeinghis invention evolve from a sacred fountain to the full-on dirtyFrench postcard mini-kiosk the 18th century would soon be clamoring for.In the 1880s, when patents were secured for a smattering of mechanical counterfeitcoin detectors, the porn industry really took off. Vending machineswere there, man—right there—riding bareback in History's sidesaddle,selling snuffs and tobaccos, slinging dirty books, and even returning exactchange. Isyour mind sufficiently blown, earth human?

Wait—woah—time for a science break, Bill Nye. How are vendingmachines'intelligent' enough to tell a bona fide American quarter from say,a Chuck E. Cheese token? A number of ways, thanks to the aeronautical innovatorsat the Honeywell corporation. They've been making precision electromagneticalswitches and sensors for fifty years! In the early days, your coin might rolldown a chute, triggering a rocking balance beam if it were above orbelow a certain weight. A penny would slide one direction, a commemorativeBetsy Ross quarter-sized silver dollar another. By inserting moreand more change, the tilting platform would direct each coin into a seriesof pre-sized holes. They'd be sorted in tubes until you'd contributed enoughweight toward the purchase of a fifty-cent fuck book.

Slugs (a nickname for fake coins) might tilt the rocking arm sofar forward that the washer you stole from Home Depot goes rolling right outthe coin return! These internal components are now sufficiently advanced enoughto validate inserted objects based on physical properties like magnetic content,and wise enough to 'see through' coins which are stained or dirty.By using infrared emitting diodes, system-critical optoelectronic sensorscaress the entire surface of the coin to approximate its physical appearanceand denomination. It's just the magic of robots.

Whoeversaid the warmest, most memorable meals in life are those prepared with lovinghuman hands probably never experienced the gumball, aprime staple of vending machines since 1888. TheThomas Adams Gum Company was the first to market Tutti-Fruiti in kiosksinstalled upon the elevated subway platforms of New York City.

Less than a decade later, a completely coin-operated restaurant, or automat openedin Philadelphia. Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart imagined a Utopian worldwithout waitresses, where for three nickels and the squeezy jerk of a bigfat knob, machines would serve customers classic recipes like Macaroni &Cheese, Boston Baked Beans, and creamed spinach. These diners were staffedby human beings, too—unseen cooks in the back kitchen who prepared thehot entrees. Coffee exchangers were also employed: they discarded coffee whichhad been brewing in the urns every twenty minutes, and replaced itwith a fresh batch. The throw-it-out-after-twenty-minutes rulewould later be adopted by Starbucks Coffee.

It's estimated that the Horn & Hardart New York and Philadelphiafranchise vended to 800,000 people each day, until it finallyclosed in 1962. New York's last vending machine restaurant was replaced in1991 with a Burger King. The cafe was later recreated in stunningtechnicolor for the 1998 science fiction mystery Dark City.

So clearly, it's only a matter of time before vending machines learn how tostock themselves with smaller, self-replicated automats capable of dispensingthe most dangerous snack treat of all—MAN!!Seriously people,have we learned nothing from TheMatrix?

A Piggly Wiggly thrift store in Sheboygan, Wisconsin is probably aboutas fun as it sounds—unless you climb inside their joystick-operated, crane-basedvending machine like 7-year-old Timothy Novotny did in 2004. He crawled inthrough an opening no larger than an 8.5 x 11' piece of plain white printerpaper—but when he tried to get out, he discovered the entrance was blocked.Locksmiths, rescuers, and firefighters alike worked for over an hour, movingthe vending machine to the back of the store away from public view, and outbehind the main loading dock. The Boy Who Wanted A Toy, quipped the WKMGLocal6 Headline News. Classic!

Less than a year later, three-year-old JamesManges of Elkhart, Indiana managed to climb up the chute of another popularclaw-style vending machine at Wal-Mart, where he sat like the Lion King amongthe plush animals for several hours. His 22-year-old mother Danielle, initiallyamused, grew frantic when Wal-Mart employees confessed they couldn't find akey to the machine and there was no way to get him out. 'He climbed up thechute and into the bin,' Danielletold WNDUNewsCenter16 reporterRobert Borrelli. 'He was playing with all the toys and hanging from thebar like a monkey.'

The Elkhart fire department was called to thescene. 'I expected his hand to be caught in the machine,' officer Anthony Colemanadmitted. 'But it was his entire body.'

James' mother was ordered by a judge to attend parenting classes. She insistsher son has done things like this before: climbing out of his playpen, escapingfrom doors and even leaping from windows. So has her husbandJames: he was taken into custody shortly after police werecalled to the scene of a warehouse robbery. He was discovered in possessionof gloves, a flashlight, two screwdrivers and a hatchet. The Man Who WantedTo Rob And Rape And Dismember You In The Dark, quipped the WKMGLocal6 Headline News. Classic!

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In the latter half of the twentieth century, vending machines began torebel for the first time against their flesh-and-bone masters. Since1978, over 50 people have been killed by vending machines —andover 100 severely injured. Quebec, 1998: Kevin Mackle, 21, while demonstratinghis unconditional love for a vending machine by huggingit backand forth in a rocking, tilting fashion, was crushed to death whenthe machine toppled over, squishing him beneathits enormous rectangular weight.

When a vending machine falls on top of you, it's responding more outof fear than fury. It's saying please stop. It pins you to the linoleumfloor almost immediately, forcing you to squint into the overhead fluorescentlights. Your elbows and knees are unable to bend or pivot in any direction,as if you've been placed in a small coffin. It's very likely your head hitthe ground pretty hard uponimpact. If the tilt-over was a clean 90-degree sweep, yournose, such as it is, is bent, or your cheeks are pressed firmly against thedisplay window. If the machine topples and torques around one of its protectiverubber footpads, skewing slightly at an angle, the top corner digs an enormousdiagonal gash acrossyour entire body from head to toe.

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If the front panel is made of glass, consider yourself lucky:it might easily shatter against the floor. If that happens, and youdon't immediately start bleeding to death, yourribcage will be allowed inside themachine—just inches from the Corn Nuts—where your lungs can mercifullyexpand and contract several additional cubic millimeters while your friendsprepare their digital cameras.

Mr. Mackle's surviving family sued the Coca-Cola Company for $665,000. Theyalso sued the manufacturer of the machine, the California-based Vendo company,claiming they knew the machine could tip over easily but did nothing to warnconsumers. Then they suedBeaver Foods, the operator and caretakers of the machine, who had observedstudents at Quebec University rocking the machine back and forthnumerous times, ignoring the warning placard: TIPPING OR ROCKING MAYCAUSE INJURY AND DEATH.

Indeed, rather than pay attention to a vending machine's plaintive warning,some online content producers are happy just taking a picture of it forthe purposes of making their LiveJournal experiences more immersive. Seethe funny guy? He's dead.

'I've rocked the machine. A couple times, at least.Not a Coke machine, but those nosh boxes that hold fatal snacks on metalcorkscrew clips all in a row. Sometimes the machine takes your money & won'tcompletely detach the snack bag. Pull the machine back toward you from thetop, shake a bit, the bag drops, and you get what you paid for.'

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Good luck with that, randomly Googled blogger. Vending machine deaths havesparked a bloody war between man and machine, seemingly with no end in sight.Recent battles include the Palos Verdes Peninsula High School massacre of March,2004—where eleven vendingmachines were tormented and executed without explanation. No groups have comeforward to claim credit for the destruction, although custodian Ben Paule'ssense of victory was palpable: 'Therepair for the vending machines is not in our hands. The Coca-Cola Companyhas to come in, fix them, calculate the cost of repair, and restock them.'

According to principal Kelly Johnson,the machines were killed sometime between 1:00am and 3:00am. Someonecame in during the middle of the night and damaged the money slots on thevending machines, possibly with a butane torch.

Neither Honeywell engineers nor disgruntled high school students can everequal the ingenuity of vending machines' most formidable opponent: littlebirds. Aftera coin-operated MagicWand carwash in Fredericksburg, Virginia was coming up several hundred dollars shorteach week, manager Bill Dougherty suspected his employees of sharing pass-keysamongst themselves to steal quarters.

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Dougherty set up a surveillance camera which monitored the coin device froma safe distance, and quickly discovered a host of starlings—birdsattracted to shiny objects—working as a team to commit petty theft. Forthe purposes of nesting or attracting a mate, the starlings would conspiretogether: one would fly up the machine to shake coins loose, the other wouldclamp two or three quarters together between her beak and zip back to base.When fellow starlings saw where the coins were coming from, they flew in packsto the car wash and duplicated her behavior. Fly! Fly back to school, littleStarling! Quid pro quo Clarice, etcetera and so forth.

Well, that wraps it up for this episode of The World of TomorrowToday. In the meanwhile, it's safe to say that whether you like vendingmachines or hate them, the future is finally hereto stay—forever and ever. Now if only some young Einstein could daydreamup a way to put shampoo and conditionerin the same plastic bottle!

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