If you were to peek inside a vending machine while it was being restocked, you might spot something unexpected inside: a ¼" headphone jack. You might also see the stockist plugging a corresponding connector into it.
It's not actually a headphone jack, though that's what it looks like. It's called a DEX port. DEX, for Direct Exchange, is a data collecting standard developed in the 1980s that persists in vending machines to this day. Transactions and inventory are recorded by the machine. The stockist plugs into the DEX port to download that data, which originally traveled through a cable from the DEX port to the stockist's small handheld computer; today it's transmitted wirelessly to a smartphone or tablet, but the headphone-like physical connector must still be plugged in to gain access.
Industrial design & engineering consultancy Acorn was tasked with designing a robust DEX connector by client Gimme Vending. Acorn designed this Gimme Key Pro, which beams data to the stockist's device over Bluetooth:
"Designed with an upgraded, ultra-durable rugged design that extends lifespan in the field. The rugged exoskeleton is a combination of A838 anodized aluminum and a deeply knurled combat polymer for unprecedented durability, with an integrated attachment point to make it simpler to connect to carabiners and key rings."
"Gimme Key Pro also features an expansive IEC dust and particle protection rating at a perfect 6 out of 6 and scored a high 7 out of 8 in water protection, demonstrating the ability to withstand 3 feet of water for 30 minutes. All materials were selected for ruggedness and can operate in temperatures from sub-freezing to 122F."