Coming soon to cities everywhere: PPE vending machines

Masks available for purchase in a vending machine in New York. (Nadja Sayej)

Late last month, an unusual vending machine appeared in New York City. Passersby stopped, took photos, and peered into the machine, which is located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, near the Williamsburg Bridge.

It's the first PPE vending machine in New York, a natural move born out of the coronavirus crisis. Wedged between two glass windows of a vacant storefront at 156 Delancey Street, the machine offers KN95-type masks for $4 each.

“There didn’t seem to be a reliable source for this type of mask in the city,” says David Edelman, co-founder of the company behind the machine, RapidMask2Go. “People have mentioned paying $7 to $10 for a mask of equal or lesser quality, so I think the problem has been affordable, reliable access to face coverings”.

Edelman's company plans on rolling out 20 more such machines across the city in the weeks to come, in transit hubs, office towers and entertainment venues. Though the concept may be new to New York, PPE vending machines are in fact popping up in cities across the globe, from Berlin to Beijing.

For Edelman, the idea started when he tried to purchase some masks online that never arrived. He eventually imported a bulk package of masks, gave them to friends, family and neighbors, and then tried to sell the leftovers to local retailers, which didn't work. That led him to consider a vending machine. “I hadn’t seen it done anywhere, so we went for it,” he says.

No special permit was needed to install New York's first PPE vending machine – it’s located on private property, “accessible from a public thoroughfare,” says Edelman, though he notes that future vending locations may require city permits. “We took advantage of our real estate relationships to make use of a vacant corner retail space. Delancey Street has a great deal of foot traffic, even now,” he says.

While the New York City government wasn't involved, companies like Rapid Mask2Go say they are open to a collaboration. “We would welcome a partnership with the city on rolling out these machines,” says Edelman, “ones with options to obtain free masks as a way of getting a no-cost option out there.” 

Face-mask vending machines have common been in Beijing for years, though they were more geared toward air pollution concerns until recently. China’s eastern city of Xuzhou launched a mask machine on 2 March, allowing locals to purchase two N95 masks every day with their ID cards.

On 2 April, 52 vending machines across Vienna’s subway stations were stocked with disposable 3M face masks. A mask machine recently launched in Kyiv, Ukraine, too, as well as in the Czech Republic and the Turkish city of Izmir.

Taipei launched its first PPE vending machine on 10 April, an effort of the local city government, the ministry of health and the central health insurance agency. To align with anti-hoarding efforts, the machines limit the quantity through each person’s health card, which must be swiped for each purchase.  

In Berlin, a mask machine appeared on 27 April, the same day it became a requirement for residents to wear face coverings in public. The machine sits inside the Turmstrasse metro station in the Moabit district.

A new PPE vending machine at the Las Vegas airport. (Courtesy McCarran International Airport).

And airports are also catching on. McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is the first airport in the US to offer PPE equipment via vending machines. On 13 May, the airport authority installed two machines owned and operated by the California company Prepango, selling hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes and face masks, ranging from $4.25 to $14.50. It's apt timing, considering many airlines have now made it a necessary precaution for passengers to wear masks on flights.

“We want to make sure we have the things people feel confident to fly again,” says Joe Rajchel, a spokesperson for the airport. “Travel is changing, so are travel habits, hopefully this would help.”

Nadja Sayej is an arts and culture journalist based in New York City.


The future is here: Register now for Barcelona’s New Economy Week

Barcelona New Economy Week (BNEW) starts this Tuesday with the goal of turning the Catalan city into the "global capital of the new economy".

BNEW runs from 6 to 9 October, with registration remaining open throughout the event, offering insight from 350 speakers on how businesses can bounce back from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. It will feature top speakers from the business sectors of real estate, logistics, digital industry, e-commerce and economic zones.

The hybrid, business-to-business event – which is taking place in physical and virtual forms – is organised by Consorci de la Zona Franca (CZFB) and will showcase the way in which Barcelona is preparing for the post-Covid world and the "new economy". It is the city’s first big business event of the year and aims to help revitalise and restart the local economy.

“BNEW will be the first great event for the economy’s global recovery that will allow the redesigning of the productive fabric,” says Pere Navarro, state special delegate at CZFB. “It is an honour to have the participation of renowned professionals and attendees from all around the world.

“As we are not in a position to do a proper ‘in person’ fair, we decided to adapt by creating a disruptive and useful event in this way to relaunch the economy.”

The conference will encompass five interconnected events incorporating real estate, logistics, digital industry, e-commerce and economic zones. More than 8,000 professionals from 91 countries from all over the globe will take part virtually. A further 1,000 delegates are expected to attend the five events in person. Over 200 speakers will take part physically, while the rest will give their talks via a digital platform especially created for the unique event. An advanced digital networking platform – using artificial intelligence – will cross-reference the data of all those registered to offer a large number of contacts and directly connect supply with demand.

The conference will also be simultaneously broadcast in high-quality streaming on six channels, one for each of the five interconnected events and an additional stream showcasing Barcelona’s culture and gastronomy.

BNEW will take place in three venues in the city: Estació de França, Casa Seat and Movistar Centre. All are open, digital spaces committed to the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda. Estació de França will host the BNEW Logistics, BNEW E-commerce and BNEW Real Estate events, while Casa Seat will be home to the BNEW Economic Zones event, and the Movistar Centre will host the BNEW Digital Industry.

Some 36 companies are sponsoring BNEW, and 52 start-up companies will take part and present their highly innovative products and services. A further 128 firms will participate in BVillage, a kind of virtual stand where they can show their products and schedule meetings with potential clients.

Highlight sessions will include: "the era of humankind toward the fifth industrial revolution," by Marc Vidal, a digital transformation expert; "rational optimism," by Luca Lazzarini, a commercial communications specialist; and "future smart cities’ challenges and opportunities," by Alicia Asín, a leading voice on artificial intelligence. Sandra Pina will also talk about how sustainability is transforming us, Jorge Alonso on the humane future of cities and Pilar Jericó on how to face changes in the post-Covid era.

BNEW is described as a new way of developing your know-how, expanding your networks and promoting innovation and talent.

“Networking is always one of the main attractions of the events, so to carry it out in this innovative way at BNEW – with the high international profile it boasts – is a great opportunity for companies,” says Blanca Sorigué, managing director of CZFB.

Readers can register for BNEW for free via this link using the discount code BNEWFREE.