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Coca-Cola unveils touch-free soda machines for the era of COVID-19

To reduce contact with self-serve soda machines, the company is introducing new technology that allows customers to dispense drinks using a smartphone.
/ Source: TODAY

The pandemic has changed our lives in many ways, including, of course, how we dine out. And self-serve soda machines are no exception to this, as some are getting an update to ensure safety in the era of COVID-19.

To reduce contact with a frequently-touched surface, Coca-Cola has unveiled a new technology for its Freestyle beverage machines that allows customers to dispense their drinks using a smartphone.

Coca-Cola Freestyle
New technology will allow some restaurant customers to pour their drink using a smartphone.ScottHartman

So, instead of tapping the touchscreen to choose your drink, you hold up your phone to the display and it’ll auto-scan a QR code to connect you to the machine. A full menu of brands and flavors will then appear on your phone, and after you make your selection, your drink will be poured.

“The idea is to be safe, seamless and fun,” Michael Connor, Chief Architect, Coca-Cola Freestyle, said in a press release sent to TODAY Food.

Customers won’t need to download an app to use the technology. “We intentionally designed this so anyone with a smart device could pour a drink,” Connor added. “When you have a tray or a sandwich in one hand, you don’t want to deal with downloading an app. We took steps to make the solution super-easy, super-fast and super-reliable.”

You can, however, use the Coca-Cola Freestyle app if you want to pour pre-saved mixes and orders.

Coca-Cola Freestyle
Here's an example of the menu you'll see on your phone after connecting to the machine via a QR code.Courtesy of Coca-Cola

A spokesperson for the company told TODAY the rollout of the technology will begin mid-July and be rolled out over the remainder of the year.

By the end of August, 10,000 machines across the U.S., including locations at select Firehouse Subs, Wendy’s and Five Guys, are scheduled to feature the technology. And the plan is to have all 52,000 Coca-Cola Freestyle machines updated with this feature by the end of the year.

In May, the future of self-serve machines, at least during the pandemic, was looking bleak. Both the CDC and FDA recommended against communal food and drink stations.

The Coca-Cola Freestyle contactless technology may help reduce the spread of germs from person-to-person by eliminating the need to make contact with a frequently touched surface, but experts warned that self-serve areas also make it difficult for people to socially distance.

"I think self-serve everything for now will be slow to come back and this not only includes self-serve soda machines, but also buffets, salad bars, dessert bars and brunch buffets,” National Restaurant Consultants CEO Richard Weil told TODAY in May.

“This is definitely happening across the country and very much part of the new normal," he added, predicting these shifts would last between six months to a year and a half.