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The Internet Coke Machine is an internet-connected soda vending machine that allows customers to check the availability status of soda remotely using a finger interface. Originally developed circa 1982 by a group of students at Carnegie Mellon University, the idea eventually sparked interest in several other campuses and led to modified versions allowing people to purchase goods from the machine directly via Internet.
According to various sources, Internet Coke Machine is widely considered one of the very first Internet appliances and source of inspiration for the Trojan Room Coffee Pot developed by University of Cambridge students in 1993. An article written by user CyBeRGaTa ’s blog suggests that it would be one of the earliest (if not the first) internet memes.
The first Internet Coke Machine of its kind was created in 1982 by Carnegie Mellon University students Mike Kazar, David Nichols, John Zsarnay and Ivor Durham, in the School of Computer Science department.
A text, summing up the history of that new concept, explains how they proceeded as well:
They installed micro-switches in the Coke machine to sense how many bottles were present in each of its six columns of bottles. The switches were hooked up to CMUA, the PDP-10 that was then the maindepartmental computer. A server program was written to keep tabs on the Coke machine’s state, including how long each bottle had been in the machine. When you ran the companion status inquiry program, you’d get a display that might look like this:
EMPTY EMPTY 1h 3m
COLD COLD 1h 4m
This message let you know that cold Coke could be had by pressing the lower-left or lower-center button, while the bottom bottles in the two right-hand columns had been loaded an hour or so beforehand, so were still warm. (I think the display changed to just “COLD” after the bottle had been there 3 hours.)
This Internet tool offered a real-time check up of the vending machine via a “finger email@example.com” command and used ARPANET, before being replaced by the World Wide Web protocols in the mid-1990s.
Fame among Universities
From the CMU of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that Internet project was first picked by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). There is no clear archive on when exactly it happened, but a Usenet archived talk from 1993 dealt with the success of those two machines at that time, and the new prospect to have it for the University of Western Australia, which would be added soon after and would take hold as the only existing Australian Internet-connected Coke Machine.
A list of all the connected coke machines existing throughout the world would then be established in the 1990s, and being last updated the 4th of April 1996. It shows about 14 coke machines equipped with that system. Another more recent list would also be made, this time showing more than 20 coke machines, last updated in August 2003.
A first archive from 1990 shows an exchange concerning the Internet-enabled Coke Machine, seeing it as an ingenious hack:
Sure, there are dozens of hacks throughout the world, but I know
something about this one and it’s fun. As far as I can tell, Dave
Nichols spearheaded this one, having loved the idea of the SAIL (r.i.p.)
By 1995, another installment with a new interface would be made at the Carnegie Mellon University’s Computer Science Department.
By 2008, the first Internet Coke Machine would be featured on PCmag.com as one of the greatest hacks of all time, but crediting it as being from 1991.
It’s also in october 2008 that WROC channel 8 would do a report on what they call “Coke Machine Hack” from a Rochester Institute of Technology ’s vending machine connected to Internet :
In May 2010, Chris Varenhorst, graduant from MIT Computer Science, got the idea to make an 1977 vending machine connected to Internet and to sell it to Ebay, a portion of the sale going for charity :
According to the creator’s article about it :
All of this is on a platform connected the internet, enabling operation from a website (buyusbeer.com) or my iPhone! It makes for a great living room decoration, and always serves up ice cold soda (and beer).
- 2002 article explaining the phenomenon further
- 1994 CSH Coke Machine Information
- What is Internet Appliance from 2003
- The Internet Coke Machine Myth
- 2009 article about a 2008 news report and the Internet Coke Machine in an university.
- Wean Hall mentioned as the home of the first Internet Coke Machine
- Archimuse.com article on how an Internet-enabled vending machine works
- Article about the system applied in Israel around 1999
- 2010 articles from Tuaw.com, intomobile.com and varenhor.st about a vending machine controlled by iPhone.
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