While streaming content companies have long tried to make the idea of going to the movies a stale pastime, a Portland-based agency’s new robotic popcorn machine is trying to bring a bit of life to the novelty snack.
For Amazon’s pop-up experience in New York City last week promoting Fire TV, Dotdotdash built Pop Bot, which let people pick a flavor based on their favorite genre. The device—on display in Dolby’s SoHo store through this past weekend—was in some ways a centerpiece for the 10-day experiential marketing initiative. (Sweet and savory flavors represented a variety of genres, depending on each person’s taste in movies and toppings.)
Kyle Bañuelos, Dotdotdash’s CEO, said the goal was to combine digital interfaces with robotics and food-vending to make popping something as simple and classic as popcorn “entertainment in itself.”
To develop the machine, Dotdotdash used software that remembered the actions of a robotic arm as it was manually moved in various directions to perform the art of scooping, shaking and serving popcorn. After that, the arm was programmed to complete the task on its own within the dimensions of the machine.
The Pop Bot was just one part of the broader brand activation created by Amazon and its partners. In another room, Dotdotdash used virtual reality to design a real-life room with four walls of screens that immersed visitors in a universe of Amazon content. As titles flew by on the floor, seemingly in space, moving around the room also showed off Dolby’s sound system to make people feel like they were inside the content. (According to Bañuelos, the room had the equivalent resolution of 25 million pixels, which required a unique creation pipeline.) In another separate room, Dotdotdash designed a “virtual forest,” which let guests see various Fire TV-enabled screens.
The pop-up also served as a way for Amazon to promote its new Fire TV-equipped televisions that have Dolby Vision built into them. The TVs, which debuted late last month, provide a broader color palette to make movies at home feel more like going to the theater. (Amazon said it released more than 20 different television models with Fire TV built into them last year alone.)
The weekend before the pop-up, Amazon debuted the Pop Bot while hosting the season premiere of HBO’s Big Little Lies with a special screening at the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater in San Francisco. There, each popcorn flavor could be customized based on the show.
It’s tough to say if buttering irony onto an event promoting at-home watching with an in-theater viewing was intentional, but Amazon is planning on bringing the Pop Bot on tour around the U.S. In September, Amazon will collaborate with Tastemade for an event at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Los Angeles with a screening of Tastemade’s first feature-length documentary, “Funk.” (The film, which features chef Evan Funke, is already available on Fire TV devices.)
“It just made a lot of sense because fans are going to want popcorn,” said Erika Takeuchi, head of global integrated marketing for Amazon Fire TV. “But how can we add our twist to it, and how do we celebrate this blend of entertainment and technology?”
So why not take the intellectual property and create a separate business out of it? Right now, Dotdotdash doesn’t have any desire for that—but the agency hopes maybe someone will riff off of their idea.
“I like to think that we created something that another company might say ‘Oh, we created something that we should make a business out of this,’” said Billy Vinton, creative director at Dotdotdash. “I hope it’s an inspiration for other folks to take that and develop a business out of it.”