Sep - Nov 2017
Project Type
School Assignment
Concept iteration, research, prototyping, hardware and programming

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.

The Problem

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.

Collection of boring vending machines
How can I improve the drinking experience around vending machines to make it more fun and interesting?

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.

Customer journey for Automotie
Customer journey from walking by to drinking and leaving

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.

Script for the Automotie AI

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.

Mockup for the Automotie vending machine design
User Testing

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.

The prototype program and code
Person operating the prototype
Main prototype parts: screen and speaker
The prototype consisted mainly of a screen and a keyboard


As a result of the project, I delivered 2 one page design documents: one of the prototype version and one of an ideal version.

One page design document ideal version Automotie
Ideal version
One page design document prototype version Automotie
Prototype 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.