Snapchat’s Augmented Reality Vending Machines are Marketing Gold

Editor’s Note: VRScout was able to independently verify valid re-sale permits for Snapchat’s Bot in the states of Nevada, Texas, Washington and Hawaii.

On a seemingly random Thursday morning, a bright yellow vending machine appeared suddenly on the Venice Beach Boardwalk in California spitting out Snapchat’s new Spectacles throughout the day. Hundreds of people lined up anxiously waiting to snag a few – bringing them unknowingly face to face with Snapchat’s augmented reality platform.

As each person joyfully stepped up to purchase a pair, the animated eye of the vending machine robot changed itself into what can be described as a ‘transformation mirror.’ With a relatively small camera embedded above the screen, the software utilized Snapchat’s computer vision technology to show what the potential customer would look like wearing each version of the glasses.


It’s a brilliant marketing move, with Snapchat silently showcasing how AR features can naturally fit into the buying process of products. Rather than attempting to stuff a display into a pair of glasses and advertising from there, they opted to go another route.

At a fundamental level, augmented reality is based on pattern detection. In Snapchat’s case, they developed facial detection features as their AR foundation stemming from the acquisition of Looksery. Anyone with a smartphone could dip their toes into augmented reality animations by simply opening up an app.

Looksery's pattern recognition software sets the stage for Snapchat's AR platform

Looksery’s pattern recognition software sets the stage for Snapchat’s AR platform

Following the integration of Looksery and the mass hiring of engineers, Snapchat started to sell the ability to create sponsored Lenses founded on this technology. With a ginormous user base already brewing, they set the price tag starting at $450,000 for a 24 hour feature. Despite the hefty cost, the Lenses sparked huge successes for companies brave enough to market with it. And again, Snapchat didn’t need to describe it as AR, even though it clearly is – pushing the technology further by monetizing it.

Now, on the verge of a 2017 IPO, Snapchat has updated their company name to Snap and finally manifested their secret their hardware project into what they call Spectacles. It glimpses a vision of Snapchat’s AR plans, but not one tied directly with AR glasses (yet).

Instead, the glasses are a mere stepping stone towards bigger and more far reaching goals. At the very least though, Snap’s new Spectacles can detect patterns using software embedded directly into the circuitry of the glasses. This is evident during the pairing process between the sunglasses and the phone when the directions ask the user to look at the Snapcode.


Even though there are hints that Snap will release updated versions of Spectacles with more AR features leading towards a standalone device, this current inception is still light years away from being called anything other than smart glasses.

The vending machines on the other hand should be considered an augmented reality device because it can detect patterns and display augmentations in a self-contained fashion. It is the beginning of Snap’s computer vision platform entering the retail space.

Looking towards the future, Snap has a unique opportunity to monetize AR yet again by selling the augmented reality embedded vending machines to retailers. Their initial test in Venice Beach was a massive success. It generated lengthy lines, attracted content creators like Andy Milonakis, and sparked tons of press; all while skyrocketing the demand for their 1st hardware product. So much so, that people are selling Spectacles online for insanely high price markups.

Up next, the Bot will go on tour. Most likely, it will travel where the Spectacle billboards showed up prior to the release, taking the experiment into several major cities. There’s also a chance that Snap might make more vending machines so that they can distribute the Spectacles faster.

They definitely tripped up a bit on the 1st try as limiting the amount of purchases per person became a major problem. It was like watching an untapped oil reserve spring forth out of nowhere and the initial people who stumbled upon it early were madly stocking up as many as possible hoping to gain further riches from it. Those stuck in line during the cash grab where out of luck once the inventory sold out after multiple restocks. 


It’s an amazing marketing scheme. Consumers are eating it up. Retails will too, especially if they can work with Snapchat engineers to use the computer vision AR software to sell other products. Licensing the software through an API or packaging it into customized hardware devices like the vending machines would create more revenue and could spread the Snap’s presence further into world of retail.

For instance, Snap could team up with companies to create similar devices like the vending machines. As an example, imagine during the days leading up to a huge film release, productions studios install temporary marketing ‘posters’ that allow people to venture up to the screen and see what they would look like as a character in that movie.

The potential is vast, and these vending machines thrust augmented reality deeper into the mainstream. Snap isn’t talking about AR plans directly, but they don’t need to. Their actions are speaking louder than their words.

Until Snap actually start mentioning augmented reality publicly though, those searching for the initial ripples of Snapchat’s AR expansion will have to wait until the Snapchat Bot wakes up. When it does, more hints into their augmented reality ideas will surely follow too.


Read more: Snapchat Quietly Introduced a 360-Degree Video Ad Platform


Further Reading: Creating a 360-Degree Snapchat Video With AR Filters

About the Scout

Matthew Terndrup

Matt Terndrup is a virtual reality journalist and content creator. He has written for Motherboard/Vice, UploadVR, Road to VR, Make Magazine, Hackaday, and many others. He was also worked with Two Bit Circus creating 360-degree video. In addition, he is currently working on a science fiction book related to VR.

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