Page Created: 6/24/2014   Last Modified: 10/8/2020   Last Generated: 6/7/2024

I've had a long interest in these types of systems--autonomous, stationary servants. When I am out running long distances, I sometimes fantasize of a glowing machine, an ambassador to civilization juxtaposed in a desolate, fractal wilderness, ready to serve mankind.

They are tall, like us, machines we meet face-to-face, and somehow we know they deserve respect in a way that other machines do not. Perhaps it is us protecting the corruption of our own humanity. To abuse such an innocent machine lowers us, makes us feel that we abused ourselves. But when they slight us, it's time to put the beast down, at least for repair.

Vending machines are like the non-player characters in Garriott's original "Ultima"; you request a "transaction", and they happily transact with you. No drama needed. They also have to be unlocked in some way, like mysterious treasure chests, and you need to have the the key.

They are another form of the stage. Inside them resides a mini world of actors: the chip, the soda, the candy bar; Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

Japan, one of the countries leading the world in robotics, had more reverence for them. Somehow they saw the same things I did.

I used to build vending machines out of cardboard with my neighbor when I was a child, creating internal slides for coins and a box for candy. If you think about it, vending machines are computer subroutines manifested into the physical world. You input something (a coin), and it outputs something (candy) based on your parameters (your choice).

After reading about the upcoming release of the RaspberryPi, I began designs on my first real vending machine. I could finally combine my knowledge of document-oriented databases to build both the point-of-sale system and the machine itself. I also built a 3D printer in 2015, which could be thought of as a specialized vending machine, as it does output different physical objects based on user choice.

The next time you stand in front of one and look at the items for sale, you may take a brief second to realize how special this moment is. While there is no living being present besides yourself, you are expressing the most special gift you have, your gift of choice, and are imparting your spirit into the inanimate objects under your gaze, bifurcating your path through the wondrous many-worlds that make up the Cosmos.