During my study at the HKU I got an assignment to make an interactive hardware prototype experience with “drinking” as the theme. I wanted to make something fun so I created a talking vending machine with its own personality that can be used as a popup marketing stunt. A prototype of the talking vending machine was tested and received positive reactions.
With this project I wanted to make something that was less serious than normal but still try to solve a problem. I found that vending machines are boring, they all look, feel and work the same way, they are just part of the furniture.
I approached the question as if I was designing a popup marketing concept, something that is ment a temporary marketing ploy in a few busy places. When I saw a video of how toilets in Japan are designed with voices and personalities I was immediately inspired to do something with voice and ai. I decided that I would create a vending machine that talks to users and potential users. Using customer journeys I started designing the experience.
There wasn’t enough time in the project to build a real AI so based on the customer journey I created a script with scenarios to design how the AI works and it’s personality. I conducted multiple iterations on the script with different personalities and responses.
An important aspect of giving the AI it’s personality is the visual representation. Because vending machines are used by a wide demographic the AI should be fairly neutral. I used the most basic form of a face: a smiley. The smiley contains different expressions based on the script. Colors are used to give the vending machine more flair.
To test the concept I created a prototype using OpenFrameworks, a screen, webcams and a keyboard. The prototype was used on an existing vending machine in a busy hallway to save time. The AI was faked by someone behind a keyboard in another room following the AI script I wrote earlier. This person controls the visual representation of the AI. The prototype was tested for 4 hours with 21 people.
As a result of the project, I delivered 2 one page design documents: one of the prototype version and one of an ideal version.
The prototype received a lot of positive reactions, 95% of testers found the experience to be funny and surprising. During the test, 38% of testers did not intend to buy something at first but bought something after their interaction with the prototype. The idea of a talking vending machine appears to work as a marketing gimmick.
This project taught me that even a semi-serious project can result in important lessons like how to prototype an AI without code.