Inventor has fun with soda machine

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Stacy Vogel
May 31, 2009
— Chris Meyer uses the word “fun” a lot.

Working all day on dirty, smelly engines is “fun.”

Learning the business, software and electronics sides of inventing is “fun.”

Even working with the bureaucracy to get his latest invention established on the UW-Madison campus is “fun,” he says with a grin that makes you not quite sure he’s being sarcastic.

And while Meyer enjoys himself, he’s also making the world a better place.

The Fulton Township native’s latest bit of fun takes the hassle and waste out of vending machines. He and his business partner, Mike Deau, Menomonee Falls, have invented a bottle-less vending machine called EcoStream.

They came up with the idea about six months ago, Deau said.

“We’d sit there and study and see people chugging Mountain Dew,” he said. “They don’t really want the bottle; they just want the fluid inside the bottle.”

The pair created a vending machine where people bring their own reusable bottles and cups. It resembles a fountain machine, but it uses only one spigot so it takes up less space. A touch screen allows users to load money onto their accounts and—here’s the really cool part—mix different kinds of soda.

“At lunch it’s fun,” Meyer said. “Orange Coke is not something you can get everywhere.”

Meyer, 23, and Deau, 21, think the environmentally friendly machine could be a hit on college campuses and in offices where people tend to keep bottles or mugs with them. They’ve already won more than $20,000 in prize money from various competitions.

If the machine captures 2.2 percent of the vending market, it could eliminate the need for two power plants, they said.

EcoStream isn’t Meyer’s only effort to help the environment. When he’s not taking classes toward his master’s degree in mechanical engineering, he’s working in a lab to reduce emissions in diesel engines. He’s also the graduate student advisor to UW-Madison’s hybrid vehicle team.

As an undergraduate, he helped invent a motorcycle helmet that tells you if your turn signal is on and a virtual game called “Parallel Kingdom” that you play on your cell phone.

Meyer’s parents, Mike and Terri Meyer of Fulton Township, weren’t surprised to see him become an inventor, Mike said.

“When he was little, I’d bring home a lot of stuff from places I worked, and he’d kind of tear it apart,” said Mike, an electrician.

The summer after his freshman year of college, Meyer took apart a Buick Regal, Mike said.

“He tore the whole car apart and put it back together, just to see how it ran, I guess,” he said.

Meyer, a 2004 Milton High School graduate, should have plenty to keep him busy this summer. He and Deau are working on a fifth prototype of EcoStream that will offer flavored water and energy drinks. They’re applying for a patent and working to get machines installed on the Madison campus.

Meyer hopes to work on new inventions through graduate school and beyond.

“It’s a lot more fun than sitting at a desk all day,” he said.

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