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  • 09.25.12

The Story Behind The Popinator

The Popinator can’t really find your mouth and launch popcorn into it–yet–but it can get a lot of media attention.

The Story Behind The Popinator

Did the world of popcorn consumption really need a technological leap forward? The public and media response to The Popinator, a marketing stunt promoting Popcorn Indiana in which a whiz-bang contraption appears to automatically launch fluffy corn kernels on command, would suggest a resounding yes.

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Launched via web video last week, The Popinator became something of a national fascination. With over 1.5 million views on YouTube and a parade of national news media fawning over the hands-free snacking solution, it seems there’s a market for an appliance that will launch popcorn directly into your mouth whenever you say “pop.”

Now, the folks behind what turned out to be a mild hoax are working on prototyping the machine for real.

The device was created by New York-based Thinkmodo, the specialists in digital-meets-physical spectacle that gave us stunts such as unleashing realistic zombies for AMC and for sending human figures flying over NYC as a promo for the feature film, Chronicle

Thinkmodo co-founder and creative director Michael Krivicka (one half of the two-person company along with partner James Percelay), says Popcorn Indiana originally approached the agency to come up with something to make its snack brand a little more famous.

“We went and visited them and had a tour of their facility. We realized pretty quickly the company is all about innovation in how they constantly improve their [product], so we wanted to do something cool and something we haven’t seen yet,” says Krivicka. “While we were walking around, we noticed all these people flinging popcorn at each other. It was a natural thing for us to think about creating something that shoots popcorn at people.”

He says The Popinator started as a “what-if.” “As we were designing the machine it started to look like it could work. With the video we just showed a proof of concept; we’re still working on making it real.”

The machine shown in the video, as many have wondered, does not function as presented. In fact, CNN outed the machine as a hoax. But it can. Krivicka says the team employed designers and engineers to create something that looked real–and judging by the enthusiastic reaction, they succeeded–and that could actually function as presented. At present, the machine runs on air compression technology to launch popcorn, the turret rotates 180 and it shoots up to 15 feet depending on the type of popcorn. But it doesn’t react to voice command, nor does it direct its trajectory based on the direction of voice command.

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Krivicka says the biggest challenge to making The Popinator the real deal is not voice activation, but voice triangulation. “The problem is to figure out where the sound came from and make a mathematical estimation of how strong to shoot the popcorn and how to get it in the general area.” He says the likely solution will be a combination of using binaural microphones and Kinect technology, which can help pinpoint the source of a command.

Regardless of how The Popinator develops from this point forward, Krivicka says, “We struck a nerve here and the demand has been fantastic.”

About the author

Rae Ann Fera is a writer with Co.Create whose specialty is covering the media, marketing, creative advertising, digital technology and design fields. She was formerly the editor of ad industry publication Boards and has written for Huffington Post and Marketing Magazine.

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