NCR shows off mobile ATM machine

Pushing the envelope on mobile products for the banking industry, NCR Corp. pulled its prototype HARP ATM (automated teller machine) out of the research laboratory today for its public debut. Unlike traditional banking machines, the HARP (Handy Access in Remote Places) ATM is a small, mobile unit that can be quickly installed in special event locations or in remote locals.

“We have taken the ATM out of the hole in the wall and are putting cash where the consumer is,” said Mark Grossi, chief technology officer at NCR Financial Solutions Group.

NCR is targeting deployment at locations like county fairs, festivals and sporting events like F1 races. “We also have interest in India, and other places without the necessary infrastructure (for fixed-line ATMs) ,” Grossi said.

The unit, which was on display at the RBC eBusiness Intelligence Symposium 2002, is a working model, which Grossi likened to a concept car. The final production machines may have a slightly different look, but the underlying technology will be the same. The existing version of the HARP ATM weighs about 50 kilograms, supports a 7-inch (177.8-millimeter) diagonal screen, and measures approximately 24 inches by 14 inches by 18 inches (609 millimeters by 355.6 milllimeters by 457.2 millimeters). It can be mounted on a table, on a wall or in a free-standing frame.

HARP ATMs will communicate with banking networks using mobile communications technology — GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access). Data will be encrypted using Triple DES security. The ATM will be powered by either battery (12 volt lithium) or solar panels, and will be designed to run for three days. They will also be stocked with a three-day supply of cash.

GPS devices will be included “so we can tell if somebody moves it even within a couple of meters,” Grossi said. “It will also have knowledge of self. It knows where it should be and what state it should be in. If it is attacked it can defend itself.”

HARP’s defense could range from exploding a dye packet, rendering the money useless, to going into a sleep/shut down mode. Publicity will also play a role.

“We are going to need an education program for thieves that explains that there is no value or return if you mess with these things,” Grossi said.

It won’t just be the thieves, however, who will be questioning the ATM’s value. Bank managers will also have to carefully study HARP’s return-on-investment.

Thomas Wolf, senior vice president of eBusiness at Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) won’t say if the Toronto-based bank is looking at HARP, but did say he is very selective about new technology choices.

“If we can build a good business case around something, we will deploy it. If we see a problem we don’t really have a good solution for, we will be driven by technology innovations,” he said.

Wolf said rolling out Web-based ATMs is currently a higher priority for RBC. “We’re likely to start that in the very near future.”

In addition to HARP, NCR also displayed its self-service audio ATM (which comes with a headphone jack so visually impaired clients can listen to instructions while making transactions) and a visual PIN system. Instead of a keypad, customers are presented with a group of images on a touch screen. The demonstration used pictures of a house, a creek, a flower, a beach, a sunset, a donkey, a boat, grapes, a desert landscape, and a goldfish. Grossi said that the visual system was developed because people remember visual clues much better than a series of numbers.