CHICAGO -- By day, Tyler DeAngelo is the creative director of an ad agency, plotting strategy for some of America's best-known consumer products. Off hours, he's an inveterate tinkerer. A few years ago he sparked a small Internet and videogame sensation by taking the classic Frogger arcade piece and incorporating images of real cars into the graphics in a game he called Fifth Ave Frogger. DeAngelo now has turned his attention to bulk vending, merging a classic gumball machine with Foursquare.
To appreciate DeAngelo's vision, it's important to understand how Foursquare works. The location check-in mobile app was founded in 2009 by Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai, and it has since raised more than $70 million. It prompts its 20 million worldwide smartphone users to "check in" when they are out and about at participating venues. The check-in is immediately sent to their Facebook pages, as well as Foursquare, and saved. The posts can later be used to make recommendations for other spots. Venues like the app because it provides free advertising via Facebook; consumers like it because where you go can say as much about you as what you wear, eat or drive.
So how has DeAngelo incorporated Foursquare into a bulk vending machine? He enlisted the help of two New York University students, Ben Light and Matt Richardson. They gutted a vending machine, crafted a new gear mechanism (laser cut from high-grade plastic) and internal mounts, and installed a small stepper motor, along with the electronics that enable the wireless interface. The project took about three and a half months to complete.
By standing in proximity to the vender, which automatically sends a signal to a smartphone, and then checking in, the patron is given a free gumball. The proof of concept is seen in a vender that electronically dispenses the gumball within a second or two after the check-in. The reward is immediate.
See the Foursquare bulk vending system -- dubbed Check 'N Chew -- in action:
"This gumball machine allows people to tell their friends they are at your location. That will appear on Facebook and Foursquare. They purchase a gumball to check in, or announce they are at a location through Foursquare," explained DeAngelo. "There's less than a second delay. You are purchasing it through social media currency. The value comes from the impression you can garner from someone checking in."
According to DeAngelo, this is no small thing. With the average Facebook user boasting 300 or more friends, a dozen check-ins announce the location to some 3,000 people for a minimal cost of ball gum.
DeAngelo admits he knows virtually nothing about the vending industry. What attracted him to bulk vending machines was their ubiquitous, familiar and instantly understandable nature. Everybody knows what a gumball machine is. The exchange is immediate -- check in and get a gumball.
"You're building 'top of mind' awareness," he said. "You can either pay money for a piece of candy or have the potential to build a brand. It's a slightly different way of thinking of the role of a vending machine."
The same concept can be applied to nearly any machine with a coin mechanism or bill acceptor -- think pool tables, dartboards, videogames and jukeboxes, among other coin-op staples in bars and taverns. Very similar technology can be applied to offer a free game or version of free play with a simple check-in.
Whether this merger of coin-op and social media will take off remains to be seen. However, DeAngelo's selection of a bulk vender as his proof of concept speaks volumes about the ubiquity and familiarity of these classic little machines and the potential of their unlikely pairing with social media.
Vending industry professionals interested in learning more about Check 'N Chew can enter their email addresses at checknchew.com.