by Pei-Wan Wang
Vending machines are automated machinery where transactions can be done using cash and credit cards. They replace traditional stores on certain levels and make it more convenient for customers to obtain packaged products such as beverages, snacks, instant noodles, etc. With the change of people’s needs and the influence of the pandemic, there are now vending machines for ramen. Let’s see how these vending machines for hot food appeared in the first place.
Ramen vending machine by Taiwanese engineer
Andy Lin (林志鴻), the designer of a ramen-making vending machine, used to work at Advanced Semiconductor Engineering (ASE) Group as an engineer, before he founded his company, Yo-Kai Express. One night in 2016, he was hungry after a meeting with his clients, but there were only instant noodles or microwave food at hands. That was when it hit Lin- “what if there is a machine that could automatically fix a bowl of noodles?” Lin found on the Internet that there had been such a machine developed in Japan, but the design was 40 years ago and never made any progress since. Lin thought of the possibility of using sensors to select different ingredients and semiconductor technology as a way for heating. Then, he spent $500,000 to make a prototype and invited 3 leading suppliers for Japanese ramen ingredients in the United States for tryouts. The companies found the tastes even better than that of microwaved ramen. After 2 years of research and development, Yo-Kai Express launched its very first ramen vending machine.
The most challenging technical issue was how to keep the texture and freshness of the ingredients when it is frozen and heated. In the beginning, Lin tried more than a hundred kinds of flour mixed with water, just to find the right ratio for mixture; the cooking time was also experimented down to milliseconds. About 300 sensors are installed in the vending machine to collect data including temperature, time and pressure.
Disease prevention gives a boost in the demand for hot food vending machines
At the end of 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic reduced contact between people, which gave rise to the prevalence of food delivery services and hot food vending machines. With the machines distributed in multiple places and meal services available for several periods of time, the grab-and-go design not only refrains people from having too much contact with others, but also meet their needs for food.
Another similar example would be in Shifen Old Street, Pingxi District, New Taipei City, where only a handful of tourists visit recently due to the pandemic, resulting in many shops closing. In the face of this, Long’an Community Development Association introduced Bento Unmanned Store, a new business model to sell hot meals, in June 2021.
Despite the pandemic, non-contact services have brought a new consumer behavior, and such services, along with the pandemic, are believed to continue to exist and shape a new norm in people’s life.