New 'ATM' Takes Old Phones and Gives Back Green

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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Tuan Mai
Tuan Mai is a Los Angeles based writer and marketing manager working within the PC Hardware industry. He has written for Tom's Guide since 2010, with a special interest in the weird and quirky.
  • halcyon
    Totally cool.
  • _scientist
    Totally cool until you find out it's only going to give you $20.00 for your "like-new" iPhone 4.
  • Azn Cracker
    Most likely a ripoff. You are trading money for convenience.
  • aoneone
    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!
  • CaedenV
    Very cool... I wonder if it would take my 10 year old Nokia Brick phones lol
  • LightningStryk17
    It also recycles mp3 players like iPods and what not.
  • spookyman
    Well I have an old bag phone from the early 80's. will it fit into the ATM?
  • Kamab
    Seems like a one stop for thieves who steal smart phones.
  • kyuuketsuki
    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.
  • Johmama
    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.