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ATMs 2.0: Futuristic cash dispensers

Holograms, 3D, lie detectors: ATM ideas that may (or may not) catch on

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"Help me, Obi-Wan!" cries the hologram of Princess Leia.

"Would you like that in twenties?" replies the 3D avatar inside an ATM 2.0, coming soon to a galaxy near you.

ATMs 2.0: Futuristic cash dispensers may include holograms, facial recognition

Forget science fiction: ATMs today are starting to look a lot like "Star Wars."

Gadgetry such as 3D holograms, facial recognition, touchless user interface, audio lie detection, biometrics that read what's beneath your skin and iconography that replaces words with Obi-Wan-like avatars might one day become as common to ATMs as a card slot -- and will probably replace it!

We tracked down the latest ATM 2.0 technologies from around the globe and enlisted the help of industry veteran Bob Tramontano, vice president of marketing at NCR and a globetrotting ATM technophile, to rate their chances in the U.S. marketplace.

3D touchless ATM
When Brazilian ATM maker Itautec introduced Adattis Touchless 3D, the world's first touchless, 3D-imaging ATM at a Sao Paulo, Brazil, tradeshow this summer, it served up the most robust glimpse yet of ATM 2.0. You can get the feel in Portuguese on the company's YouTube video.

There was universal praise for its touchless interface, which allows the user to navigate and select with simple swipe or point hand gestures well familiar to most smart phone users.

Because its user interface is touch-free, the machine can be placed entirely behind glass, adding an extra layer of security for countries such as Brazil, where thieves frequently blow them up, and the U.S., where the bad guys tend to make off with the entire box.

And talk about hygienic; touchless eliminates any physical contact with a keyboard, which multiple users today turn into a virtual walk-up Petri dish of contagious diseases.

As for the holograms themselves -- the Adattis' spherical theme resembles a Friday night televised Powerball drawing -- industry insiders question whether the cost to develop, deploy and maintain this magic trick will be worth the bucks to value-conscious financial institutions.

"I don't think holograms are ready for prime time as far as the technology is concerned," says Tramontano. "but I think gesture-based interaction is something that will be very appropriate in the near to distant future."

Verdict
3D hologram: Merely an illusion -- unless it's affordable.
Touchless interface: The navigation frontrunner for ATM 2.0.

Facial recognition
Facial recognition
For years, ATM engineers around the world have been tinkering with facial recognition, an adaptation of the military's pyramid technology originally developed to direct guided missiles.

Like the military model, a camera in the ATM fixes on its target -- in this case, your face -- then compares the terrain -- the distance between your eyes, the proportion of your nose to your mouth and the location of your cheekbones -- to identify you.

Security is the prime goal of facial recognition programs, both to prevent fraud by providing a foolproof identification of each user and to detect security threats to the customers themselves while they're using the ATM.

One Kenyan prototype uses facial recognition as the primary user identifier, eliminating the need for an ATM card. And no, criminals can't fool it by holding up a photo; facial recognition technology reads target features in 3D (length, height and depth), not 2D.

The version Itautec installed on its Adattis 3D automatically ends your ATM session if you walk away. It also shows on screen who's behind you and ends the session if it detects another person getting a little too close to your business, thus preventing "shoulder surfing."

Tramontano says NCR has been pursuing a number of solutions to combat shoulder surfing, including a new ATM it developed for Spain's BBVA Bank on which the user interface rotates 90 degrees and features privacy screens to ward off looky loos.

But he's cool to the Adattis rearview display. "The problem is, if you've got a picture on screen of what's going on behind you, the average person is not going to pay attention to what's going on in front of them and they kind of get scared," he says.

Verdict
Facial recognition will have to prove it can pay for itself to become a player.

Avatars and iconography
Avatars and iconography
Just as banks are seeking ways to serve the unbanked and underbanked populations these days, ATM vendors have been busy designing a user interface that welcomes illiterate, semiliterate and those who don't speak the local native tongue.

NCR recently drew upon its heritage as a longtime cash register manufacturer to re-imagine the ATM from the standpoint of the illiterate. Gone is the keyboard and display screen; instead, its prototype freestanding ATM pillar verifies identity by a fingerprint sensor that reads the biometrics beneath your skin. The user simply selects their denominations from colored buttons to receive their cash and receipt.

The pillar was designed for rural areas of developing countries such as India and China. Its freestanding cylindrical shape resists prying and the cash box is designed to collapse in on itself if the unit is breached.

"Iconography is a lower-cost solution that replaces numbers and words, so if people have a hard time reading, they recognize it as something they know," says Tramontano. "Pictures, sounds and avatars make it easy for someone to understand how to interface and what to choose."

Verdict
Lower cost? Simpler interface? What's not to love?

Audio lie detection
Russian banking giant Sperbank recently unveiled the world's first ATM with a built-in lie detector as part of its Branch of the Future laboratory in the hope it will help prevent future credit and debit card fraud. 

It's not designed to reveal your innermost preference between tens and twenties; instead, its mission is to ferret out the motives of credit card applicants without involving an actual human.

Unlike the cop-show version, Sperbank's voice analysis system, originally developed for the KGB, uses voice recognition software to detect nervousness, emotional distress or other aural signs of possible deception as you talk the ATM into granting you a credit or debit card. It then uses the audio analysis with what it learned of your credit background from your verbal answers to determine your card worthiness.

One obstacle: Westerners may not be as comfortable as Russians with the idea that someone is listening in on a private conversation, even if it's a machine.

Tramontano sees a bigger hurdle, however.

"We haven't found yet that audio recognition in the public workspace is something that is easily done because you've got a lot of different noise going on. The ability to decipher who is in front of you and get rid of the background noise is a technical challenge."

Verdict
Big Brother isn't likely to be listening at an ATM anytime soon.

Gold to go
Gold to go At 27 locations around the world, you can sidle up to an ATM, insert cash or a debit card and receive up to an ounce of 24-karat gold from a Gold to Go ATM at the current market price plus 5 percent commission. You'll have to visit the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas to try one in the U.S., however.

Technologically, the Gold to Go machine doesn't break new ground; there are ATMs that already dispense multiple currencies and do so by computing the fluctuating values of each.

"In cultures such as India, buying and giving gold as a gift is an important aspect of the culture," says Tramontano. "Automated retailing is something we're very fond of and capable of, but we haven't taken it to the extreme of putting something as valuable as gold into a machine."

Verdict
Strictly a novelty.

Single slot and internal advances
ATM experts are more excited by the advances being made deep inside the machine than by the bright and shiny tweaks to the customer interface

The road toward "smart" ATMs is filled with cost-savings measures sure to please those price-tag-conscious financial institutions out there, including ATMs that monitor and report when their cash is running low or their machinery is malfunctioning.

NCR created a stir with its innovative "single-slot" or scale-of-deposit model (SDM) that enables the user to insert a mix of cash and checks together. You want to take back the 26th check in a mixed stack of 50? This machine can do it.

"You improve the customer experience and save the bank money," says Tramontano. "Doubling the deposits they're able to take in at the ATM enables the financial institution to reduce the cost at the branch and start to look at teller migration."

One major ATM 2.0 feature that has already taken off is bill payment. The so-called "reverse ATM" pioneered by TIO Networks and others enables the unbanked and underbanked to put money in and let the ATM pay their bills. In India, this same connectivity is enabling customers to pay their income tax at their ATM.

"U.S. telecos are doing over $1 billion a year in payments at kiosks," says Tramontano. "Bill payment is a huge opportunity."

Verdict
Single-slot, self-monitoring and bill pay represent the next wave of functionality for ATM 2.0.

See related: ATMs as voting machines: An idea whose time hasn't come, Emergency PINs to summon help at ATMs?, 5 places with the highest ATM fees

Published: October 4, 2011


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