Comment: Soon a machine will be asking, 'Do you want hot chips with that?'

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Would you trust something made of microchips cooking your hot chips?

How well can microchips cook hot chips?  Australia is about to find out, with hot chip vending machines poised to pop up like ATMs later this year.

There’s no doubt the hot chip terminals will tempt tastebuds needing to satisfy an immediate snack attack and may present serious competition to the post-pub kebab.

The upside: hot chips are available 24/7, cooked and delivered in under three minutes and there’s no obligation to leave a tip.

The downside: it’s hard to send chips back for a re-fry.  If the machine malfunctions and the cup appears, say, with no chips – who you gonna call?  Chipbusters?

Public perception of food freshness is also challenge.

Getting a savory snack or a chocolate bar from a metal vending box feels okay because preserved food items are sealed and have a long shelf life that don’t require refrigeration or heat.  But getting hot chips made by a metal box and excreted out of its chute is very different to fresh food being prepared by a real human being and handed to you across a clean countertop.

I mean, how many hot chips has that chute seen?

Food vending machines already look a bit like a modern version of Dr Who’s Tardis.  That could mean the food comes from a different place and time.  But the notion of the Tardis – a very large room inside a very small room – can be applied to the chip vending autobot.  Think of it as a large fast food outlet inside a small metal dispenser.

The chips are stored frozen then snap-fried and served in a cup.  There is some kind of truth in the oxymoron ‘fresh frozen’. Consumer trust is critical and easily destroyed if a chip-related horror story emerged. Two Spuds And A Cup is not something the vendor of the vending machines would want to go viral.

In reality, the late model chip dispensers are acceptable as far as superfast food goes. WA potato processor Bendotti Exporters and the Hot Chips Company have developed the vending system over five years so Australians can enjoy the deep fried salted and sauced carbo comfort food whenever they get the urge.

It sounds like we are so food fashion forward but in fact, we are not.  Australia lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to what we can get out of mechanical waiters and waitresses.

We do have the pizza vending machine which holds 84 pre-made pizzas and that’s great as long as you only want margarita or pepperoni.  They’re cooked in three minutes but not sliced so not much fun if you want to share.

There are some truly cruel and unusual vended items around the world such as live crabs.  Other items seem to indicate humans have strange, sudden desires they need to satisfy immediately and in public.  Why else would there be vending machines spitting out Lego at German train stations and caviar in LA?

How urgent can someone’s need be for ‘roe-on-the-go’?

A heartwarming, charitable vending machine in Istanbul invites people to put empty plastic water bottles in the top then below it dispenses pet food for strays on the street.

Australia is catching up.  The hot chip terminal might sit nicely alongside the ATM, a drinks dispensing device and a condom machine.  That four-way-vending-combo could add up to a great night out.

And we owe it all to that humble, little repetitive carb which will be elevated and celebrated in the UK with a week long festival from February 16 called Chip Week.

In the meantime, we can salivate and anticipate the arrival of hot chip vending machines landing here soon.

They’re also an indicator of what’s to come from the big end of vending town.  Home kitchens will be a thing of the past.  Your microwave, fridge, oven, toaster, kettle and cooktop will combine into a single domestic vending appliance that stores and serves hot and cold meals and drinks.  Add a Siri-like vocal response app paired with your smartphone or tablet and you can come home after a hard day’s work to some steaming hot organic material sitting at the bottom of a metal chute, waiting for you to tuck in and chow down.

You want fries with that?

Renée Brack is a journalist, media producer and adventurer.

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