Coca-Cola piloting free Wi-Fi at vending machines

Coca-Cola is experimenting with point-of-sale innovations in South Africa, including knowledge enhancing and Wi-Fi at its vending machines.

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Clint Alexander/Coca-Cola

Here’s a clever value-adding innovation: free Wi-Fi access at beverage vending machines.

Coca-Cola, in conjunction with UK-originating telco BT, is rolling out a vending machine in rural South Africa that will let anyone nearby get online.

The two test vending dispensers are being located in high-traffic areas. One is adjacent to a taxi rank, and another to a fast food joint. Both are "near shopping areas and schools," according to South African tech website TechCentral.

Increasing knowledge

Providing internet will let community business people manage some of their affairs online and will let children "increase their knowledge through research," a Coke representative said, according to the TechCentral report.

Internet coverage can be spotty in much of the countrified world.

The representative, however, didn't mention anything about possible knee-jerk questions by helicoptering health nuts related to the school proximity. What about rotting teeth, sugar, caffeine and obesity they might say, when they find out about the plan?

Clean water delivery mechanism

I reckon you can give Coke kudos on its efforts, though. While it's obviously creating a very attractive local, connected hangout — with sugary drinks laid on — it is also developing systems for delivering clean water.

Even the U.S.-installed vending machines will sell you an over-priced bottle of locally filtered water.

Obtaining clean drinking water can be a major problem in many parts of the world, and Coke is an expert in both water purification and distribution. Just don’t mention the sugar.

Water distillation in a box

Coca-Cola has been active in developing a mobile purification device for South Africa about the size of a dorm fridge, according to Tom Foster, who’s been writing about it for Popular Science.

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Coke’s and Deka’s Slingshot clean-water filter.

It’s a vapor compression distillation system in a box that can be dropped anywhere. The device, called the Slingshot and developed with partner New Hampshire-based Deka Research and Development, can purify more than 66,000 U.S. gallons of water per-year, which Foster says is enough for 300 people. Any condition of mucky water can be used.

The idea is that Slingshots will install at a point-of-sale in slum-located shipping containers. The containers are also equipped with a classic store-like counter, with a person to sell basic supplies, such as canned food.

The container also includes photo-voltaic solar panels for internet and TV power.

Me too

This may have gotten you thinking that you want one of these things for your campus site or work place.

And I’m really talking about the vending-with-free-Wi-Fi-to-attract-sugary-drink-buyers, not the altruistic device for supplying clear drinking water to impoverished countries.

Well, I think you could do it yourself pretty easily. I reckon you could hack an existing M2M connection then install a redundant router you might have lying around, remove the security, and there you go: instant lovable community around your lonely vending machines.

In fact, while you’re hacking the power, why not install a 5V smartphone charging station?

How hard could it be? Sounds like a good weekend project to me. Please let me know how you get on.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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