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edition 11 (235)
November 2018
Endpiece

As automated as they come

Tomasz Cudowski

As automated as they come

Vending machines are now a fixture in both our cities and our offices. Some will stop us dying of starvation or thirst, while others – feed our addictions. Which of these can we no longer live without? Here is my subjective ranking

5. Cigarettes. In Poland we can no longer buy them from a vending machine because a legal act passed by the Sejm eliminated this thriving industry in just one sentence. But this does not ban a machine from making you a cigarette – so invented here in Poland, we have the automated cigarette production machine, which will fill paper tubes with tobacco, for the exclusive use of the purchaser (sorry I meant to say the commissioner). However, a Polish nicotine addict still has the option to drive off to Austria after running out of fags in the middle of the night. There cigarette vending machines have had an illustrious history ever since their introduction back in 1900. Of course only Austrians over the age of eighteen may use such machines these days and one’s eligibility is automatically checked on the basis of a credit card or a driving licence (in Austria both documents are chipped).

4. Beer. Recently, while I was in Munich I came across a rather curious machine standing in a hotel corridor. It was not a self service beer tap, which would have required bar skills to operate, but a refrigerated cabinet with local lagers for the delectation of connoisseurs of the hop. The only skills required were inserting a coin and pressing a button. The product range was completed by salty snacks and soft beverages so points were scored for not letting any dads forget about their kids. Ecological sustainability had also been considered, as there was a plastic bin for the return of empty bottles. There are also wine vending machines that work on the same principle. Advinéo has even invented one where you can prepay into an account over the internet before you’ve even found the machine to dispense your booze. Meanwhile in the US there are automated kiosks vending wine, which apart from an ID scanner are also equipped with face recognition systems and a breathalyser. So any minors (I mean all those under the age of 21), don’t stand a chance – especially if they’ve had a few already.

3: Kebabs. Such a machine was built by students of the Warsaw University of Technology and they installed it in the hallways of that very same college. However one small technical flaw in their design had not been considered. The endless queue of drunken students in search of instant sobriety meant that the contents had to be continuously replenished. It’s not clear whether the inventors are now students or young entrepreneurs but another Kebs & Go machine has appeared in an underground passageway next to Warsaw’s Dworzec Centralny central railway station. It’s not quite so popular, despite the fact that a team of culinary vloggers gave it a thumbs up with a score of seven out of ten stating that it was easy to use and that the food was both hot and (more surprisingly) tasty. Shorter queues can also be seen next to machines dispensing dehydrated food reinvigorated with a splash of hot water but such lines tend to grow in length in the weeks just before student grants get paid out.

2. Milk. It reportedly all began with a Warsaw hipster with a thing for anything pro-ecological and today even a metropolis such as Radom can boast the latest in milk vending machines. Real fresh, full fat (with none of this sissy semi skimmed stuff) milk that tastes “just like it used to”. And at no extra cost you can even pour it into your own bottle to save on plastic. These mechanical udders can be found in most of those grocery chains that have added ‘Eco’ to their name. Or along country roads. Indeed one farmer from Łódź has placed such a machine just next to his pasture so you can come and look at Bessy (and her calf) while you pour out your purchase. But Polish farmers have got nothing on the Irish. On the emerald isle, deep in rural counties you will find with increasing ubiquity vending machines for eggs straight from the hen’s bottom.

1. Books. A reading addiction can be stronger than the craving for nicotine, so something had to be invented for those who haven’t yet discovered the Kindle. Such mechanical dispensers of printed vice first appeared in the UK and the US in the mid-twentieth century. But it has taken them a further 50 years to appear at Polish railway stations. Maybe the range of reading material was limited but what you could score from such dispensers would certainly give addicts a really big hit. Nothing less than the latest book by Haruki Murakami. But unfortunately far too few rehab centres have the facilities to treat such literary junkies. ν

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