Theme parks and microchips

This year, we spent our son's spring break in Florida.  My parents rented an apartment down there for a few weeks and invited us to come stay with them for the week.  It was a very nice week and we enjoyed some good family time and lots of unseasonably warm weather (it was in the 80's most of the week, which I'm told is a good 10 to 15 degrees higher than normal).

One of our outings for the week was a trip to Universal Studios in Orlando.  It turned out to be a beautiful day (despite predictions of rain) and we had a good time.  My son was especially excited about the Harry Potter areas.  We got the "park hopper" tickets, so we were able to visit both their "Adventure Island" park, which had a Hogsmeade area, and then take the Hogwarts' Express to the main Universal Studios park, which had Diagon Alley.  We didn't do many rides, since he's still a little young for most of the ones they have at Universal, but we had fun shopping and doing some of the non-ride activities.

Anyway, on a vaguely geeky note, they had kind of a neat drink package at Universal.  We went to Sea World two days before and they had a similar thing, but more manual (I assume it must be common for theme parks now).  Basically, rather than spend $3 or $4 per bottle of soda or water, you can spend $16 on a souvenir cup and get unlimited refills all day.  This was actually a pretty good deal, because it was unseasonably hot and we wanted to do the park all in one day (both because we were staying an hour away and because we didn't want to pay for multiple tickets).  At Sea World, you could just take our cup to any concession stand to get it filled.  At Universal, you could take it to a concession stand, but there were also free-standing Coke Freestyle machines throughout the park that you could use.  You're allowed to refill your cup every ten minutes until 2:00am the morning after you buy it.

Of course, this immediately raised the question "how do they enforce this?"  You don't have to show a receipt or talk to anyone to use the Freestyle machines.  What's to stop you from just bringing your own cup and not paying for anything?

Well, it turns out the souvenir cups actually have a microchip in the bottom.  If you look closely, you can see it in the bottom.  You can test this by not actually fully placing the cup down on the Freestyle machine.  We know this because somebody had dumped their slushie on the cup holder of one of the machines and just tipping your cup under the dispenser didn't work, presumably because it couldn't read the cup's chip.

I found this both kinda cool and kinda weird.  It was convenient, but at the same time it seems weird to have a computerized soda cup.  It's just one of those applications that I wouldn't have thought of.  Although it does explain why the Universal drink cups cost the same as the ones at Sea World despite the Sea World ones being way nicer.

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