Coca-Cola Freestyle Launches Touchless Fountain Experience in 100 Days Using AWS Lambda
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reshape the world and shift consumer behavior, the Coca-Cola Company has developed a new pouring option to meet consumer needs with its latest Coca-Cola Freestyle technology innovation—contactless mobile pouring by smartphone.
“All Coca-Cola beverage dispensers are safe with recommended care and cleaning,” says Thomas Stubbs, vice president of engineering and innovation at the Coca-Cola Freestyle Equipment Innovation Center. “But in these uncertain times, Coca-Cola is providing consumers a new option—a touchless fountain experience. It has been exciting to see our team continue to innovate—mostly from home—to meet the evolving needs of customers and consumers. Our food service partners are doing everything they can to maintain safe and hygienic dining environments, and we’re doing all we can to provide options for their guests to continue to pour the beverages they want on a platform they love.”
Low latency is essential to the user experience, which is why we’re committed to a serverless solution on AWS.”
Chief Architect, Coca-Cola Freestyle Equipment Innovation Center
Built on Coca-Cola’s existing Amazon Web Services (AWS) serverless architecture, the new contactless Coca-Cola Freestyle solution enables consumers to choose and pour drinks from their phones in just a few seconds, without having to create an account or download an app. The mobile experience is currently rolling out to all Coca-Cola Freestyle dispensers across the United States.
“Holding your camera up to the display will autoscan a QR code, which immediately connects to the cloud and brings the Coca-Cola Freestyle user interface to your phone,” explains Stubbs. “You then select from the full menu of brands and flavors—and pour by simply pressing the option on your phone. The idea is to be safe, seamless, and fun.”
The Freestyle team created a serverless web app—while working remotely, no less—that integrates with the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines to deliver a touchless user experience. Coca-Cola Freestyle deployed the frictionless, near-real-time solution less than 4 months after the initial idea.
Developing a Prototype in 1 Week on AWS Serverless Architecture
Introduced in 2009, the Freestyle machine is a small beverage factory about the size of an ATM (25 in. wide, 40 in. deep, and 75 in. tall) that delivers users 200 brand choices from up to 8 different beverage categories—all at the touch of a few buttons. The machine’s 36 pumps have all the ingredients to mix hundreds of beverages on demand. To quickly deploy a touchless solution, Coca-Cola Freestyle turned to AWS, on which Coca-Cola Freestyle started building in 2013.
For this project, speed of innovation was critical, as was a near-instantaneous response time. “Low latency is essential to the user experience, which is why we’re committed to a serverless solution on AWS,” explains Michael Connor, chief architect for Coca-Cola Freestyle. Even a 2- or 3-second delay could cause drinks to overflow and waste product, which also causes consumer irritation.
Coca-Cola Freestyle decided to vet the idea by creating a prototype. Because the company has an entirely serverless architecture on AWS—and everything it was building in real time was fully managed by AWS—it was able to launch a prototype in 1 week instead of months. The team brought all the infrastructure up on AWS, got the software on the dispenser, built out the mobile experience, and went into the lab to test it. “Not only did it work—and fast—but it was a magical experience to not have to touch the dispenser,” says Connor. The company then shared the minimum viable product among customers, stakeholders, and partners.
Scaling the Web App from Prototype to 10,000 Machines in 150 Days
After developing the successful prototype in April 2020, Coca-Cola Freestyle went through an AWS Well-Architected Review to determine whether the design would function well and securely at a greater scale. It introduced the prototype to customer testing locations by early June and publicly launched the web app a month later. By mid- to late July—within 100 days of conception—500 machines were running using the new web application, and 10,000 were running by the end of August. By the end of 2020, all 52,000 Freestyle machines in the United States are expected to be operational, with the remaining 8,000 worldwide to follow.
To deliver a nearly instantaneous user experience, the Freestyle team built a backend on AWS Lambda, which provides serverless compute, and Amazon API Gateway, a fully managed service that makes it easy for developers to create, maintain, and secure APIs at any scale. For example, with each transaction, the web app must speedily take a full inventory of the ingredients on each machine. “When you connect, you must immediately know the beverages available on that dispenser,” says Daisy Teoh, director of innovation for Coca-Cola Freestyle, explaining that an empty cartridge means that users might not be able to make the drinks they want. WebSocket APIs in Amazon API Gateway provide a serverless, bidirectional, real-time connection between the Freestyle machines and users’ phones, with a latency of milliseconds rather than seconds. Without that AWS feature, customers would have to wait for inventory updates at the dispenser; the pour would be slow; and lines would form.
The web app had to be equally fast for customers from coast to coast. “We had no idea what the experience would be like when users pressed the pour button, given that the signal has to travel across the country and down through our infrastructure and security stack,” says Teoh. The security stack includes AWS WAF, a firewall that protects web applications and APIs against common web exploits that may affect availability, compromise security, or consume excessive resources. “The signal has to reach the dispenser, which would then mix and pour the drink.” To enable fast speeds, the Coca-Cola Freestyle team hosted the small, lightweight mobile experience on Amazon CloudFront, a fast content-delivery network service that securely delivers data, videos, applications, and APIs to customers globally, with low latency and high transfer speeds. This lets people—wherever they are—quickly connect to the servers. “Now when someone walks up and scans the QR code, the user interface pops up within 800 milliseconds and connects to the dispenser, which responds to pour requests in another 100 or 200 milliseconds,” says Teoh. In other words, a customer can go from scanning a QR code to pouring a drink in less than a second.
The Amazon CloudFront content delivery network offers a multitier cache by default, with regional edge caches that improve latency and lower the load on a company’s origin servers when the object is not already cached at the edge. When it came to expanding the Coca-Cola Freestyle web app across Europe, Teoh says, “we had expected European touchless consumers to experience long lag times due to the distance back to our data center hosted in the United States. But initial testing shows that the combination of the high-speed fiber connection back to the United States and the Amazon CloudFront edge caching provides a good user experience, despite the distance of the connection.” As the web app launches in Europe through the end of 2020, the Coca-Cola Freestyle team will closely monitor the connection speed across each country and the need for regional hosting.
Delivering a Safe Customer Experience on AWS Serverless Architecture
Coca-Cola Freestyle plans to explore using the web app to pursue further engagement with customers—like serving content in the user’s native language or building in accessibility features—or to layer on other options, such as donations for each pour of a drink.
Overall, the web app served a much higher purpose than simply providing a functional solution during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The web app is consistent with what Coca-Cola Freestyle is trying to do as a brand: creating the ability for someone to get a beverage of choice in a fun way,” says Teoh. On AWS, Coca-Cola Freestyle turned an unprecedented challenge into inspiration for an even better user experience.
About Coca-Cola Freestyle
Coca-Cola Freestyle reinvented the beverage fountain experience in 2009 by offering an unparalleled array of choices—more than 200 brand options, including 100 varieties that can’t be found anywhere else—on a fun, interactive platform.
Benefits of AWS
- Launched mobile pour app prototype in 1 week
- Scaled to 10,000 machines in 150 days
- Collected no data from consumers
- Enables mobile devices to connect to dispenser in milliseconds
- Predicts when ingredients need replacing, using dispenser data and artificial intelligence
- Helps customers identify popular beverages and trends, using dispenser data
- Uses dispenser data to identify and resolve operational issues quickly
AWS Services Used
Amazon API Gateway
Amazon API Gateway is a fully managed service that makes it easy for developers to create, publish, maintain, monitor, and secure APIs at any scale. APIs act as the "front door" for applications to access data, business logic, or functionality from your backend services.
AWS Lambda lets you run code without provisioning or managing servers. You pay only for the compute time you consume.
Amazon CloudFront is a fast content delivery network (CDN) service that securely delivers data, videos, applications and APIs to a global audience with low-latency high-speed transfer and a developer-friendly environment.
AWS WAF is a web application firewall that helps protect your web applications or APIs against common web exploits that may affect availability, compromise security, or consume excessive resources.
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