Vending machines may not be the most modern of conveniences, but they could become the latest one to sweep fast-developing Vietnam. A group of engineering students at Hanoi Polytechnic University have produced a prototype soft-drink machine as a thesis project that they hope could become a big business. It is believed Vietnam currently has no vending machines anywhere. 'They're very popular in foreign countries, so why not in Vietnam?' said Vo Duy Thanh, leader of the student group. Vietnam's reintroduction of coins into the domestic currency late last year, after decades of using only paper notes, sparked the students' project. The five young men started work in February, without any of them having actually seen a vending machine before. In the beginning they had only pictures and designs downloaded from the internet to go by. Later they enlisted the sponsorship of the electronics giant Philips, and their working prototype was completed in only three months. Mr Thanh said his group had already had discussions with several Vietnamese corporations about the possibility of producing the machines en masse for commercial use. First, however, there are some obstacles. The prototype needs fine-tuning, and the project needs more funding. Meanwhile, the country's new coins have received a tepid reaction from a Vietnamese public accustomed to using paper money. Many small shopkeepers even refuse to accept coins, even though they are required to by law. And the vending machines themselves will have to bridge the familiarity gap. Only one of several shoppers questioned at one of Hanoi's most upscale shopping centres said they had ever used a vending machine; more than half said they had never heard of the concept. Nevertheless, imported machines to dispense condoms are expected to appear in Vietnam later this year as part of an HIV/Aids-prevention programme. And the pioneering students are optimistic. 'People will get used to it in future,' said Mr Thanh.