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Coke and Amazon turn smartphones into soda fountains

Coca-Cola is shifting the interface of its “Freestyle” soda machines directly to customer phones, with help from Amazon Web Services (AWS).

The Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, introduced in 2009 and available in 17 countries, features more than 200 Coca-Cola beverage options which customers can order via touchscreen interface. Users can select from mixtures of flavors of Coca-Cola products, which are then individually dispensed. The machines are typically located within food service and entertainment venues.

However, with the COVID-19 global pandemic creating consumer desire for contactless purchases, Coca-Cola collaborated with AWS, its longtime cloud provider, to enable customers to operate the machines with their smartphones. Working with AWS, Coca-Cola was able to develop, test, and deploy software code to the machines, all while mostly working from home, 100 days after the initial concept was complete. AWS co-designed the architecture that helped create the solution.

The "mobile pour" solution for Coca-Cola Freestyle dispensers does not require a customer to download an app sign into an account. Instead, the customer scans the machine’s QR code to bring the user interface to their phone screen. The mobile web experience is designed to be intuitive for the user and looks simple by design. 

The solution actually works through a series of signals and steps taking place in the cloud. These verify that each phone is connected to the right machine, only in-stock beverages are shown as flavor options, and that pours start and stop with the touch of a button on the phone screen. 

All of these steps occur in near-real time, so when users release their finger from the 'pour' button on their phone, the machine instantly stops pouring to avoid overflows and spills. The solution leverages cloud services, such as the AWS Lambda coding service, to avoid the need for local servers.

Coca-Cola piloted early versions of the solution at Wendy's, Firehouse Subs, and Five Guys six weeks after the initial brainstorm. The CPG giant is following an iterative, collaborative process with its customer teams, and continues to improve the user experience as it receives feedback.

Today, more than 30,000 machines have the touchless capability. By the end of 2020, all Freestyle machines in the U.S. will be touchless, with worldwide deployment of the technology to follow.

"We're investing a lot of time to understand how consumer behaviors are evolving throughout the pandemic and making sure our tech strategy matches those and future behaviors," said Thomas Stubbs, VP of engineering & innovation, Coca-Cola Freestyle. "Our foodservice and entertainment partners are working tirelessly to create and maintain a safe environment for their guests. And while all Coca-Cola beverage dispensers are safe with recommended care and cleaning, we acted quickly when the pandemic hit to reimagine the future of the Freestyle machine and get ahead of shifting consumer needs."

"This innovation is the epitome of customer obsession—using evolving consumer expectations as inspiration for an even better experience," said David Ahuja, Head of worldwide consumer packaged goods at AWS. "Coca-Cola Freestyle is paving the way for touchless experiences across other industries. With touchpads in our pockets, just think of all the ways we can improve upon today's contact-based machines."

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