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Intelligent Machines

ATMs Go beyond Cash

They’re not just dumb bank terminals anymore. New machines sell movie tickets, cash checks, and add minutes to your cell-phone account.

What sells movie tickets, cashes checks, lets you add minutes to your cell-phone account, and spits out a stack of crisp twenties? It’s your neighborhood ATM-now equipped with a new computer that’s more like a multimedia PC than the familiar dumb bank terminal.

Since the 1980s, most ATMs have been built around simple, slow computers with low-bandwidth telephone connections back to the bank. But a new generation of ATMs from companies such as Diebold of North Canton, OH, and Triton of Long Beach, MS, have fast, updated processors, a Microsoft Windows operating system, and quicker network connections based on the same protocols used on the Internet. That means they can handle complicated software for cashing checks, making money transfers, or displaying graphics as varied as any found on the Web.

One of the main advantages of the new ATMs is that their interfaces can be customized for each user, says Steve Grzymkowski, a product-marketing manager with Diebold. Once a customer has identified himself or herself to a machine using an ATM card, “the screen would appear like a personalized website with options showing your preferred transactions, or even have a ticker for your stocks or advertisements of your favorite accessories,” Grzymkowski says. And because they run Windows, it’s easy for software developers to write new programs for them. For example, NCR, a bank machine manufacturer headquartered in Dayton, OH, offers software that lets ATM users buy movie tickets or prepaid long-distance telephone minutes and even order flowers.

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