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Opening of the National Vending Machine

by • 27 May, 2010 • Expositions, TechnologyComments (22)14613

The National Vending Machine – Building a community of objects

An automatiek type vending machine, or trekmuur – “pull wall” – as we call it in Dutch, is a traditional piece of robust technology used to sell deep-fried snacks. Many visitors to Holland might have seen it, especially late at night when they’re popular places to get something to eat.

Over the last years some machines started to sell other stuff than traditional Dutch snacks. There are ones that sell Chinese food and even sunglasses, but that’s about all the innovation the machines have seen. The Museum of National History and Mediamatic decided to take the vending machine to the next level. Yesterday we launched the pilot of this project.

The National Vending Machine

The National Vending Machine (Nationale Automatiek in Dutch) is place where visitors to a museum can buy historical objects. The objects are both historical and recognisable, like a light bulb or tulips. Each object tells a story about Dutch history, which visitors can read on an attached label, see as a video or discover on the project’s website.

The idea is to build a community of objects. Visitors can contribute to the exposition by telling their story about the object they bought or by suggesting new objects. The pilot of the National Vending Machine is in the Amsterdam Historical Museum, but after a few months the machine will start travelling around the country. Every time with other objects and improved interaction with the visitors.

Logically, the traditional vending machine did not suffice for all these new forms of interaction. The museum and Mediamatic had to reinvent the machine.

Reinventing the vending machine

Overview of the National Vending Machine

From right to left: registration booth, vending machines and video booth in the National Vending Machine

A traditional vending machine is used by paying with coins directly in the machine. This unlocks one column in the machine and the user can open any of the compartments. There’s no way of knowing which of the compartments is opened, who the visitor is or why he or she chose a specific compartment. There’s no way to follow up on the visit.

We decided to make the flow more personal, and a bit more complex. Sensors for each compartment are used to determine which one is opened and visitors are identified with personal RFID cards. This is how it works:

  • A visitor pays with coins for the object of her choice at a registration booth (far right in the photo above). The money becomes the visitor’s credit for the vending machine.
  • After inserting the coins the visitor can give her name, take a photo and do a little “hot or not” quiz about historical images. We use this information to create an online profile at our website. After the pilot, this will be the starting point for users for a journey through history online.
  • When the visitor completes the registration procedure, she gets a RFID card. This card in personal and can be used at other activities of the museum. It’s also a free entry ticket for the future museum.
  • With the card, the visitor can unlock one of the 10 columns with historical objects (in the middle of the photo above). Each compartment uses magnetic sensors so we know which of the 8 compartments of a column the visitor opens.
  • The chosen object is added to the profile of the visitor. The ID of the card is the unique identifier for the visitor.
  • The visitor can take the chosen object home. A label gives the story behind the object.
  • Finally, the visitor can use the card to play a movie about the object she bought at the National Vending Machine (in the far left of the photo above). These short movies add images and movie to the story on the label.
  • If the visitor wishes to buy another object, she can add credit to her card and profile at the registration desk.

After the visit, the visitor can continue the experience with the National Vending Machine online. An email is sent after registration, which gives access to the personal profile of the visitor. On this profile the visitor can find additional information about the object and links to online sources.

Online each visitor can add personal memories, opinions, images, etc. to each of the objects in the National Vending Machine. This way we build files on each of the objects. Also, the visitor can suggest new objects to be put in the vending machine.

After the pilot…

Visitors of the National Vending Machine Visitors to the National Vending Machine watch a video

Visitors of the National Vending Machine read the label of their object and watch a video

The current edition of the National Vending Machine is a pilot project for a series of vending machines at other locations in the country. The Museum of National History and Mediamatic will use the experiences from this pilot to improve the vending machine, the visitor flow and the online environment.

I’m curious what you think about this project. How could we improve future editions? Does this offer additional opportunities we have missed so far? Your input and the input from visitors and users will be used to strengthen the project and continue reinventing the vending machine. Of course, I will regularly write about the project on this website. Let me know what you think!

Update August 2nd 2010: I’ve done some field study about interaction and participation with the National Vending Machine and wrote a post about that.

Photography by Fred Ernst, who’s an amazing photographer!

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