University unveils MacBook vending machine

Drexel's library now offers laptops in addition to its collection of books.

Drexel’s library now offers laptops in addition to its collection of books.

As much as professors try to instill the virtues of preparation and foresight into their pupils, inevitably those students will find themselves hunkered down in a university library in the wee hours of the night, cramming for a midterm or frantically putting the finishing touches on a research paper. In those moments, every resource is vital and the slightest technical glitch can lead to academic catastrophe. One American university is launching an initiative to help those sleep-deprived students get through the night.

Introducing the laptop vending machine
Philadelphia’s Drexel University recently introduced the first of what could be many self-serving, 24-hour vending machines at its W.W. Hagerty Library. Instead of dispensing soda or potato chips, though, this device provides students with rentable MacBooks. Any student with a valid Drexel ID can take out one of a dozen MacBook laptops for up to five hours at a time.

The university already had a laptop rental service in place, however, it is directly operated by the library staff and is unavailable to students working after hours. The possibility of installing an automated alternative to this service arose when a student government representative approached library administrators with his concerns regarding the safety of carrying a laptop around campus late at night.

The logistics of renting laptops
Students can rent a laptop and work on a project within the five hour window without facing any charges, although late fees will be applied to those who do not return the MacBook in a timely fashion. Concerns about potential thefts have been alleviated with the installation of sensors which alert university security if a laptop is removed from the library. When a MacBook is returned to the kiosk, the docking station begins charging it for its next use. Additionally, the laptop’s hard drive is wiped with each return, so students do not need to be concerned about their projects being stolen. On the other hand, any work produced during a rental session will need to be saved through a cloud service to avoid data loss.

Expanding the program
According to Network World, university officials are monitoring the program’s effectiveness and if it proves to be successful, may install additional machines around campus as well as modify the kiosks to offer tablets. As technological advancements become more integrated into the academic experience, one of the major barriers to full-scale integration is student access. More educational resources are found online now, including coursework, classroom software and research sources. To continue down this route unimpeded, students need to be given the necessary tools to succeed.

Should laptop rental programs become widespread throughout North American universities? Are colleges obligated to offer high-tech gadgets for student use? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!

Scott Cornell

When he’s not knee deep in blogging and all things tech, Scott spends his free time playing ultimate Frisbee and watching foreign films. An expert in emerging tech trends, Scott always has his ear to ground for breaking news related to IT security.