Inside Coke’s “Freestyle” Soda Fountain

The new-fangled touchscreen gizmo has more in common with medical devices than with traditional soda fountains.

Coke Fountain

After bringing you the back story of how Coke’s Freestyle fountain was invented, we’ve finally gotten a peek at its inner workings, care of CNBC’s upcoming special The Real Story Behind The Real Thing.

At first, the Freestyle seems like a futuristic novelty: The touchscreen fountain allows you to pick from dozens of Coke products–far more than you could cram into a typical soda fountain. But that belies the real business case for the machine.

As the video reveals, it’s the machine’s guts that tell the real story. The fountain’s flavors come not from big bags of concentrate but from precision inkjet printer cartridges, a concept borrowed from the medical industry. The benefits are two-fold. The printer cartridges contain extremely concentrated syrup, which massively cuts down on shipping costs and on the company’s carbon footprint–one 46-ounce cartridge equals an old-time 5-gallon bag.

But just as important, the cartridges also track exactly what’s being dispensed in real-time. That provides a continuous data stream to Coke about what’s catching the consumer’s fancy. So you could, for example, track how a new product performs–down to the ounce–shortly after its introduction.

For more on the process behind the Freestyle’s invention, check out our feature on David Butler, Coke’s chief design-guru.

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.