Coca-Cola updating Freestyle machines

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Coca-Cola is rolling out the ability to control its Freestyle beverage machines from almost any smart phone as a way to improve sanitation around the touchscreen-centric dispensers.

The company has about 52,000 of the machines around the U.S. The machines use a combination of carbonated and flat water with flavor cartridges to offer a much wider selection than a traditional beverage dispenser unit can, including soft drinks, sparkling water, fruit flavored beverages and more.

They can also dispense tap water.

This process is controlled through a touchscreen interface — so the machines by definition become high touch points, which isn’t super desirable during a global pandemic.

The company has long offered the ability for users to save favorite beverage combinations in its app and then have a compatible machine dispense it.

However, the new functionality allows users on any mobile device with a Web browser to scan a QR code on the machine’s screen and then essentially control it from their own device, going through a similar interface as on the normal touchscreen.

Customers will still have place a cup under the machine and dispense ice, if desired, but this process could be almost completely touch free.

So far only about 10,000 machines have been updated with the new feature, but the company hopes to have all of them updated by the end of the year.

Freestyle machines can be found in self service setups such as fast food and food courts as well as more “grab and go” type configurations.

They can also be placed in back of house areas where they are accessed by servers instead of the general public.

Because of their high cost, Freestyle machines are typically located at national chains — and even then it might only be in select locations.