As detailed in Forbes this week, a beverage company called BOS has developed and launched a vending machine called BEV that dispenses iced tea canned drinks when a customer tweets a specific hashtag while standing in front of the machine. Located at Wembley Square in Cape Town, South Africa, the machine uses a red LED display at the top of the unit to display the hashtag #BOSTWEET4T. The display also shows the Twitter name of the person that tweets the hashtag and offers a countdown until the can of iced tea is dispensed. In order to attract customers to the unique vending machine, BOS has also programmed messages like “You look thirty, human. Let me help you.” and “Is BOS your cup of tea? BEV at your service.” on the display.
The high-tech vending machine also comes equipped with a microphone, speaker and camera in addition to a colorful variety of LED lights that shine erratically when a can of iced tea is dispensed. The BOS customer can watch a small video screen on the unit that displays a feed from a camera inside the machine that appears to be attached to the arm that picks up the drink.
After the can falls to the bottom of the chute, the speaker in the machine plays a robotic voice telling the person to enjoy the beverage. There doesn’t appear to be much of a delay from the time that the tweet is placed and when the drink is dispensed from the machine. According to Forbes, the organic tea is made from a local plant called Rooibos that is used by South Africans to make tea. Similar to coffee, they add sugar and milk to the tea or use alternatives such as a slice of lemon or a dollop of honey for sweetness.
BOS has also built in technical safeguards that don’t pay attention to tweets that aren’t in the vicinity of the vending machine. Connected into the Twitter Streaming API, the hashtag acts as a filter and all tweets that contain the hashtag are pulled from the stream into BEV.
However, BEV also looks at the location data of the tweet and compares it to a predetermined boundary set by BOS. This means someone beyond a short distance from the machine won’t be able to activate BEV by simply adding the hashtag to their tweet. This also means the Twitter user has to add location data from their mobile device to the tweet.
For the moment, the South African PR agency running the promotion for BOS isn’t charging people for the iced tea drinks and is only requiring that someone has a Twitter account to get a free drink. Beyond this promotional period, the company could eventually partner with a social payments startup like Chirpify in order to collect money from each tweet. Chirpify connects a user’s PayPal account with their Twitter account in order to enable payments through tweeting. However, the company would likely have to pay Chirpify a percentage of each sale in order to use the service and collect money from micro-transactions at the vending machine.