Vending Machine Technology: How Do They Work?

When you’re hungry and in a rush, a vending machine in Tucson can be the most convenient option. They’re fast, they’re reliable and they’re pretty much everywhere—but have you ever wondered exactly how they actually work?

It’s easy to take for granted just how complex the transaction is. This machine is capable of accepting your money, assessing its value, and dispensing your selected item. And amazingly, these machines get it right, every time. So what exactly is going on when you purchase items from a vending machine? Let’s find out.

Making a payment

Say you want to purchase an item that costs $1.50, and you just happen to have a single dollar, a quarter, nickel and two dimes in your pocket. Perfect. Any human can look at that small assortment of currency and determine that you have sufficient funds to make your purchase, but for a machine, things become a little bit more involved.

First, you slide your dollar into the slot for bills. You’ll hear a little whirring sound as the machine gobbles up your bill. Now, you may be wondering, “how did it know whether that was a single dollar bill or a hundred?”

As it turns out, vending machines in Tucson operate using some rather sophisticated optical technology. When you first slid the bill into the machine, the little whirring sound you heard was a treadmill, not unlike a tiny version of the exercise equipment found at your local gymnasium, that positioned you bill under a small camera array. This array looks for markers that are printed on currency. Each valuation will have different markers in a different configuration. If you’ve ever had a bill spit back out at you, it’s probably because the machine could not locate these markers.

Next, you enter the change. You hear your three different coin types plunk into the machine. At first, you may think that the machine “looked” at each coin the same way it did the dollar, and in a way, you’re right, but in another, more accurate way, you’re wrong. As it turns out, the coins are identified by sensitive electromagnets, which can recognize different coins based on their composition and thickness.

Making your selection

Now that the machine has registered that the appropriate currency has been entered, you key in your selection. This tells the machine to turn on the motor controlling a metal spiral on which your snack is resting. You’ve probably watched this happen at one point or another.

Even after your snack has successfully dropped, there’s one last step, and, like the ending to any sufficiently awesome process, it involves lasers. In order to register successful snack delivery, the machine waits for your purchase to pass through a laser beam, which turns off the motor to the metal spiral and completes the transaction.

Knowing all these interesting facts, the next time you use a vending machine in Tucson, you will hopefully feel like a more active participant in the transaction, and somehow gain a greater degree of fulfillment from your snack selection.

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