Coca-Cola modifies soda machines so customers can order drinks by phone

Coca-Cola, the world’s biggest soft drink maker, is updating its Freestyle soda machines with contactless technology that would improve safety amid the coronavirus pandemic by eliminating the need for touchscreens.

Credit: Coca-Cola

Credit: Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola is updating its soda fountain machines with new hands-free technology that will dispense beverages automatically after customers make selections on their smartphones.

The world’s biggest soft drink maker, headquartered in Atlanta, believes the update will improve safety amid the coronavirus pandemic by eliminating the need for touchscreens that are shared by many users.

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The technology will be installed in 52,000 total Coca-Cola Freestyle drink machines at fast food restaurants across the nation from now through the rest of the year, TODAY reported.

Released in 2009, the Freestyle machines provide endless drink options.

Customers might encounter the technology first at Firehouse Subs, Wendy’s and Five Guys, where about 10,000 of the machines are expected to be updated by the end of August, TODAY reported.

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Here’s how the technology works.

After a drink purchase, a QR code is sent to the customer’s phone, which is then used to connect to the fountain machine.

A menu of beverage options will then display on the phone, and the drink is poured once a selection is made.

“The idea is to be safe, seamless and fun,” Michael Connor, chief architect, Coca-Cola Freestyle, said in a news release sent to TODAY.

Plus, there’s no app to download, although a Freestyle app is there for customers who have locked in special premixed orders.

“We intentionally designed this so anyone with a smart device could pour a drink,” Connor said. “When you have a tray or a sandwich in one hand, you don’t want to deal with downloading an app. We took steps to make the solution super-easy, super-fast and super-reliable.”

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In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the Food and Drug Administration advised restaurants against offering shared food and drink areas.

That same month, McDonald’s Corp. implemented new health safety guidelines at its 14,000 locations nationwide that “closed or sectioned off” beverage bars where a staff member could not be regularly deployed to spray and wipe down the drink machine.

“I think self-serve everything for now will be slow to come back and this not only includes self-serve soda machines, but also buffets, salad bars, dessert bars and brunch buffets,” National Restaurant Consultants CEO Richard Weil told TODAY in May.

“This is definitely happening across the country and very much part of the new normal,” he said.

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