The 2011 Touhoku Earthquake brought electricity production in Japan to its knees. I personally witnessed the lights of Shibuya and Shinjuku go completely dark for an entire week, which for Americans is the equivalent of turning off Times Square in New York. No marquees, no video screens, nothing but the bare essentials (and the hotel decided to disable the AC in a country where everyone likes it hot, and there were 20 floors of warmth to radiate up below me and no openable windows.
Vending machines are a huge business in Japan. And by huge, I mean every street corner, in every town, in every prefecture. $65 billion dollars a year are dropped into them, and they’re just getting more power hungry, as demonstrated by the 65″ touchscreen at a major stop on the Tokyo metro I saw a few weeks back. So manufacturers, who already were scaling back power requirements with LED lighting, on/off cycles, and customer proximity sensors, were in a pickle: How do you make a machine only run at night, when things are cooler and power cheaper, and still keep drinks and other food items cold? Coke, who obviously has a big interest in this area wanted to know.
The answer: Vacuum, Radiation, and Compartmentalization
No, not that kind of radiation. The same thing that makes the radiator in your house work. When you chill the drinks down nice and cold, they help keep each other cold. The same reason why that 2 liter bottle of pop you got from the pizza place stays chilly for the first few cups, and then goes warm really fast. The larger mass of cold soda stays cold longer than the smaller one. Combine that with a vacuum insulation process that keeps cold air from being lost, and even in the middle of hot hot hot Japanese summer, these machines could keep it cool for up to 16 hours without the compressor turning on.
Think about how you use your fridge. 80% of the time you’re probably going after drinks, snackables like yogurt, and other things that can be kept in small, defineable places. So what if your fridge could seal off the vegetable bin or the meat keeper? How about the butter hatch in the door? Not only would this isolation keep things fresher, but it greatly reduces the area of the fridge that needs to be kept cool, meaning shorter compressor runs, more green operation, and lower bills for you.
If Fukushima was still running, its complete power output could barely run all the entertainment halls (arcades, pachinko, karaoke) and vending machines in Japan, but strange as they may be to Western eyes, they represent a gigantic part of the economy there and cannot be just shut down. As Japan expands its green power initiatives to rid itself of nuclear power, hopefully they’ll discover more ways to improve the lives of everyone in the process.