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New 'ATM' Takes Old Phones and Gives Back Green

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 24 comments

ecoATM kiosk gobbles up your old phone and spews out a cash reward.

With dozens of cutting edge smartphones coming out each year, most of us find ourselves contemplating an upgrade fairly often. But when the time does come, figuring out what to do with the old phone can be a hassle. While selling it seems to be a popular choice, not everyone has time to create and answer Craigslist ads.

There may be more than a few stores out there that are willing to recycle your phone or purchase it from you for a small price, but one company hopes to make it even easier with a recycling "ATM" kiosk that gobbles up your old mobile device and spews out a specific amount of cash depending on the device.

Dubbed the ecoATM, the kiosk uses an artificial intelligence system that automatically detects and differentiates various consumer electronics. After determining the device and its condition, the kiosk estimates a market value and offers a cash reward or store credit for the customer.

Additionally, the kiosk also allows customers to donate a part or all of their compensation to one of several available charities. According to company co-founder Mark Bowles, the ecoATM worked with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create sophisticated algorithms for the device.

"We are now able to tell the difference between cracked glass on a phone, which is an inexpensive fix, versus a broken display or bleeding pixels, which is generally fatal for the device," Bowles explained.

"We were warned by leading machine-vision experts that solving the inspecting/grading problem-with an infinite variety of possible flaws-was an impossible problem to solve. Yet with our NSF support, we solved it through several years of research and development, trial and error, use of artificial intelligence and neural network techniques."

The current ecoATM model is trained with a database containing photos of more than 4,000 devices. If a mistake is made in identification process, the kiosk learns from it to ensure it doesn't happen again. If you happen to have some sort of sentimental attachment to your device, you'll also be pleased to learn that ecoATM finds a second home for more than three-fourths of the devices it collects. According to the company, the kiosk comes with a real-time, worldwide pre-auction system, meaning a large network of buyers may bid in advance on the 4,000 different models in eight possible grades.

The kiosk is then able to immediate compensate the recycler and send the device over to somebody who wants it. Any phone that isn't wanted is eventually sent through the proper recycling channels. Although the California-based company has already installed several ATMs across the nation, ecoATM hopes to have more kiosks widely available within the next year.

 

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  • 14 Hide
    _scientist , September 21, 2012 3:38 PM
    Totally cool until you find out it's only going to give you $20.00 for your "like-new" iPhone 4.
Other Comments
  • 7 Hide
    halcyon , September 21, 2012 3:31 PM
    Totally cool.
  • 14 Hide
    _scientist , September 21, 2012 3:38 PM
    Totally cool until you find out it's only going to give you $20.00 for your "like-new" iPhone 4.
  • 9 Hide
    Azn Cracker , September 21, 2012 3:40 PM
    Most likely a ripoff. You are trading money for convenience.
  • 6 Hide
    aoneone , September 21, 2012 4:03 PM
    hehe remember watching dumb criminals strapping cables to their car and trying to jack a cash atm? Well, get ready for more reports of phone atms being jacked ! ^_^ just to let u know!
  • 5 Hide
    CaedenV , September 21, 2012 4:05 PM
    Very cool... I wonder if it would take my 10 year old Nokia Brick phones lol
  • 2 Hide
    LightningStryk17 , September 21, 2012 4:19 PM
    It also recycles mp3 players like iPods and what not.
  • 4 Hide
    spookyman , September 21, 2012 4:33 PM
    Well I have an old bag phone from the early 80's. will it fit into the ATM?
  • 0 Hide
    Kamab , September 21, 2012 5:21 PM
    Seems like a one stop for thieves who steal smart phones.
  • 1 Hide
    kyuuketsuki , September 21, 2012 5:21 PM
    Can the machine identify issues that aren't identifiable from the exterior? Such as with my old Sony Ericcson slider-phone: it looks like it's in mint condition, but it doesn't power-on. I wonder if I put it into one of these machines if I'd get mint-condition price for a non-functional phone (not that that old phone would be worth much, if anything, but the same thing applies to newer devices).

    Heck, I wonder if you could gut a phone and just stick the empty case/screen in there.
  • 2 Hide
    Johmama , September 21, 2012 6:02 PM
    Kyuuketsukiit looks like it's in mint condition, but it doesn't power-on.

    Heck, I wonder if you could gut a phone and just stick the empty case/screen in there.


    I was wonder that same thing while I was reading this. What if I had perfectly good hardware for my phone, but I had bricked it a while back. Would it know? How COULD it know? As for the empty case scenario: I'm sure it has weights for all the models in its database so if it was off by even a little bit, it would know something was up. I still wanna know about the bricked devices though.
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , September 21, 2012 6:21 PM
    I meet the Bowles earlier this year and learned a lot about how they started and what they do.
    To answer some of your questions:
    1. Any phone with a WIP antenna is worthless. The machine won't pay you anything for it but at least you can be green and recycle it rather than throwing it in the garbage
    2. You have to plug your device into the ATM and it will run a software check to determine condition/functionality. I should have asked him what happens when you plug in a rooted android phone.
  • 1 Hide
    chewy1963 , September 21, 2012 7:04 PM
    "Dubbed the ecoATM, the kiosk uses an artificial intelligence system that automatically detects and differentiates various consumer electronics."

    And so Skynet begins.... o.o
  • 3 Hide
    ryankuder , September 21, 2012 7:05 PM
    Hey, my name is Ryan and I'm the Marketing Director for ecoATM. I thought it might be helpful to answer a few of the questions here.

    First, I've got an iPhone 4 in pretty good condition (light scratches, works fine). Yesterday, an ecoATM offered $130 for it. So we pay real money. For some phones, there's just no market for them, so we can't offer very much, but we will by anything we recognize as a phone for at least $1. If we can't find a new home for it, we'll recycle it with one of our certified recycling partners. Also, you never mail your phone to us, so there's no waiting then getting your phone downgraded. We tell you what we'll pay while you're standing there. If you like it, we spit out cash. If not, we give you you're phone back.

    Regarding stolen phones. To buy a phone, you need to scan a valid ID to make sure it's you, we collect your thumbprint, and we provide reports to local authorities. If something is awry with your id (it's not you or it's expired or something), we won't finish the transaction. Because of all the regulations we need to follow and the technology we have to tie you to the phone you sold us, we're actually a really bad place to try to get rid of a stolen phone.

    To see if your phone works, after we do a scan to identify what kind of phone it is, we give you a cable you'll need to plug in to your phone. We then do a test of the electronics and the software to make sure it works. We use optics to identify and analyze the physical condition of the phone and they're pretty advanced. We can tell the difference between a thumbprint and a crack shaped like a thumbprint because we use different techniques to check those things. We don't need to weigh the phones.

    In any case, we do buy phones that are cracked or even phones that don't power up. You won't get full value for those kinds of phones, but we're happy to buy them.

    Hopefully this answers some of the questions you all had. I'll monitor the thread in case any other questions come up.

    Thanks!
    Ryan
  • 1 Hide
    amdwilliam1985 , September 21, 2012 7:38 PM
    ryankuderHey, my name is Ryan and I'm the Marketing Director for ecoATM. I thought it might be helpful to answer a few of the questions here. First, I've got an iPhone 4 in pretty good condition (light scratches, works fine). Yesterday, an ecoATM offered $130 for it. So we pay real money. For some phones, there's just no market for them, so we can't offer very much, but we will by anything we recognize as a phone for at least $1. If we can't find a new home for it, we'll recycle it with one of our certified recycling partners. Also, you never mail your phone to us, so there's no waiting then getting your phone downgraded. We tell you what we'll pay while you're standing there. If you like it, we spit out cash. If not, we give you you're phone back. Regarding stolen phones. To buy a phone, you need to scan a valid ID to make sure it's you, we collect your thumbprint, and we provide reports to local authorities. If something is awry with your id (it's not you or it's expired or something), we won't finish the transaction. Because of all the regulations we need to follow and the technology we have to tie you to the phone you sold us, we're actually a really bad place to try to get rid of a stolen phone.To see if your phone works, after we do a scan to identify what kind of phone it is, we give you a cable you'll need to plug in to your phone. We then do a test of the electronics and the software to make sure it works. We use optics to identify and analyze the physical condition of the phone and they're pretty advanced. We can tell the difference between a thumbprint and a crack shaped like a thumbprint because we use different techniques to check those things. We don't need to weigh the phones.In any case, we do buy phones that are cracked or even phones that don't power up. You won't get full value for those kinds of phones, but we're happy to buy them.Hopefully this answers some of the questions you all had. I'll monitor the thread in case any other questions come up.Thanks!Ryan


    Sounds good and legit.
    Hoping to see it around my local malls and at more locations.
    Also, it would be great if this idea expands to all electronics, I know it's hard, but it would be awesome.
    I'm sure there are many people out there like me who holds on to a lot of old stuff not knowing what to do, and don't want to just throw it into garbage.
  • 1 Hide
    _scientist , September 21, 2012 8:40 PM
    Well I guess I was wrong then -_- lol.

    Thanks for taking the time to give us some feedback!
  • 0 Hide
    A Bad Day , September 21, 2012 8:52 PM
    How long will it take for a phone company to adopt the game companies' attitude to used products?
  • 1 Hide
    twelch82 , September 22, 2012 12:03 AM
    I'm surprised they went to that much effort. I thought they'd just have the machine grab the phone, hold it in front of a camera or webcam that uploads to a worker in an office in India, and give you a real-time estimate that way.
  • 2 Hide
    ryankuder , September 22, 2012 12:09 AM
    @TheCapulet We're actually have over 150 kiosks in 11 states so far and we will have 300 kiosks placed by the end of the year. Hopefully we'll have one near you soon. You can find out .

    @twelch82 Our early prototypes did that, except not in India...there was an actual person standing next to the machine. The challenge is that a person can only identify so many types of phones just by looking at them. Our kiosks recognize nearly 4000 different devices and can evaluate the condition of each of them--fast. It's just not something a human can pull off in the amount of time someone would be willing to stand around and wait.
  • 0 Hide
    digiex , September 22, 2012 1:57 AM
    Quote:
    Dubbed the ecoATM, the kiosk uses an artificial intelligence system that automatically detects and differentiates various consumer electronics.


    Why does reading artificial intelligence in scientific articles freaks me out?
  • 1 Hide
    halcyon , September 22, 2012 11:29 AM
    I went to RadioShack last night to look at a Galaxy S3. Okay, it was better than l expected. They offered me $350 store credit for my AT&T iPhone 4s...so I bit on a Sprint S3 and still have $60 store credit after getting a OtterBox and 32G SD card. Who says the iPhone isn't worth anything. I doubt any phone ATM could come close. ...yes, me, Mr. glass and alumiinum has switched to the dark side. I hadn't used an Android device since my Transformer Prime debacle back in February. ...tooka little while to re-adjust, but you know what? Not bad...not bad at all.

    The screen on this thing is AMAZING...but you already knew this. Battery life could be better but I'll tweak. Speed...so much that its not an issue.

    So far I don't miss my 4s. We'll see if I keep this puppy or move back to an iPhone 5.

    No frick'n ATM can match Radio Shack...thankyouverymuch.
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