Motorola Tests Phone Vending Machines

You probably laughed a few years ago when you first heard about vending machines in airports selling things like Apple iPods. "Yeah," you thought. "Lotta good that probably does them on their next flight; an empty iPod, probably with a dead battery!"

Motorola apparently thinks the idea has some merit, though, announcing a pilot program of “robotic retail stores” to provide on-demand mobile phones and accessories.

“Continuing our effort to reinvent mobile retail culture and transform the consumer experience, this on-demand retail solution is an interesting approach to the many extensions of our retail strategy,” said Jason Few, Corporate Vice President, Global Retail, Motorola. “This pilot program is an opportunity to bring never-seen-before convenience to consumers who are looking for ways to make life easier.”

The vending systems will be dubbed INSTANTMOTO and should show up by November in 20 U.S. locations: systems are already set up in the San Francisco International Airport and Chicago’s downtown Macy’s store. The stores will over more than two dozen Motorola products, including the popular RAZR handsets and Q handheld (with and without service plans), as well as accessories like Bluetooth headsets and car chargers.

The touch-screen vending systems are developed by San Francisco’s Zoom Systems and operate using credit and debit cards. Users make their selection, and a robotic arm retrieves and carefully deposits the merchandise behind a 9-inch window just below the touch screen. Optical technology senses when a buyer has reached in to pick up their item—and only at that point is the credit card charge processed, helping eliminate the possibility that a customer will be charged for an item, only to have the retrieval system screw up or snag before the consumer can get their merchandise.

(So no kicking and rocking these systems, right? Although, maybe if you’re tricky, you can unplug it after it’s retrieved your item but before you reach in.)

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