BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates to a self-service terminal (SST) such as an automated teller machine (ATM), and to a method of operating an SST. In particular, embodiments of the invention relate to an ATM in which deposited or dispensed media may be held in escrow while the media is validated.
Self-service terminals (SST) are commonly used for conducting a range of financial transactions. Chief among these is the dispensing of banknotes or other media. A number of SSTs also have the facility to accept deposits of media. However, before a media deposit can be accepted by an SST, the media is preferably first validated, to ensure that the media deposited is genuine, and is in an acceptable format; if the media fails validation, it may be returned to the user. Further, if a user cancels a deposit transaction part-way through, any media deposited should also be returned to the user.
Ideally, any returned media should be the same media as was deposited; particularly if there is a validation failure. The preferred mechanism of accommodating this is to provide SSTs with an escrow facility: deposited media is held in escrow pending validation or confirmation of the transaction; only once it has been confirmed that the deposit is to be accepted will the media leave the escrow unit for the media deposit safe. Escrow units may also be applied to media dispensing: a bundle of banknotes to be dispensed may be held in escrow pending confirmation of the transaction and validation of the dispensed currency; if the transaction is not to proceed, the notes may be transferred from the escrow unit to a reject note bin.
Common methods of providing escrowing include stacker wheel re-bunching and roll escrows. However, both of these occupy a relatively large amount of space, and roll escrows can be expensive. It is also necessary to provide separate transport for the media between the user interface and the escrow unit, so further increasing the space requirements and cost of such escrows.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
It is among the objects of embodiments of the present invention to obviate or alleviate these and other disadvantages of existing escrow systems. This is achieved, in part, by providing a compact escrow unit which may be fitted in the path of the normal media deposit/dispense route, so eliminating the need for a separate escrow transport mechanism.
According to a first aspect of the present invention, there is provided a method of depositing media, the method comprising the steps of:
receiving media to be deposited in a media receptacle;
removing the media from the receptacle;
returning the media to the media receptacle via a media validation pathway;
determining whether the deposited media is to be accepted; and
transferring accepted media from the media receptacle to accepted media storage.
The present invention thus provides a method which provides for receipt of a deposit in a media receptacle, and then validated and returned to the same receptacle pending acceptance; the receptacle can thus act as its own escrow unit so obviating the requirement to provide additional space for a separate escrow unit.
Preferably the media is received through a media deposit port of a self-service terminal (SST).
The step of removing the media from the receptacle may comprise the step of transferring individual media items directly from the receptacle to the media validation pathway. Preferably, however, the method comprises the separate steps of removing the media from the receptacle; and then transferring individual media items to the media validation pathway. Preferably the media items are transferred by being picked individually onto the validation pathway. Suitable friction and vacuum pick mechanisms are known in the art. Conveniently, where a pick mechanism is employed, the media is biased against the pick mechanism; more preferably, the receptacle is arranged to bias the media against the pick mechanism.
Preferably the step of returning the media to the media receptacle via a media validation pathway comprises the step of validating the media. Conveniently this is achieved by passing the media by or through means for validating media, which may be disposed in the validation pathway. The media validation means may comprise a note thickness sensor (NTS), to determine whether single or multiple notes have been picked. The validation means may additionally or alternatively comprise means for identifying media, to identify the denomination or value of deposited media; and/or means for detecting media forgery, to determine whether or not genuine media have been deposited. Such media validation means are known in the art.
The step of determining whether the deposited media is to be accepted may comprise the steps of identifying any media failing validation, and not accepting a deposit containing failed media. The acceptance determination step may alternatively or in addition comprise the step of requesting a user to confirm the deposit. For example, the user may be informed of the value of the deposit as determined by the means for validating media, and asked to confirm this value; if the user disagrees with the validation, they may cancel the transaction at this stage.
The step of transferring accepted media to accepted media storage preferably comprises the step of moving the media along at least part of the media validation pathway. It is preferred that the route to the media storage branches off the route of the media validation pathway; thus, space and expense is reduced by having a unitary media pathway over much of the length of both the media validation and media storage routes. The common part of the route may include some or all of the means for validating media, to reconfirm the acceptability of the media. The transfer step may therefore further comprise the step of validating the media.
The method may further comprise the step of transferring accepted media to one of a plurality of different accepted media storage locations. For example, banknotes of different denominations may be transferred to different media storage locations. This is particularly preferred if deposited media may be re-issued from the SST during a later transaction. If this is the case, then it is preferred that the media is revalidated before entering media storage; alternatively, the sequence of denominations of deposited media may be recorded from the initial pass through the validation pathway, and the media sorted appropriately.
The method may further comprise the step of returning non-accepted media to a user. Preferably the media is returned through a media return port of an SST. Most conveniently, the media return port also serves as the media deposit port. Alternatively, non-accepted media may be transferred to a rejected media storage location.
According to a second aspect of the present invention, there is provided a method of dispensing media, the method comprising the steps of:
picking media to be dispensed from one or more media storage locations;
passing the media via a media validation pathway to a media receptacle;
determining whether the media is to be dispensed; and
presenting dispensed media directly from the receptacle to a user.
Preferably the method further comprises the step of: if the media is not to be dispensed, transferring the media from the media receptacle to a rejected media storage location.
Preferably the transfer step comprises the step of moving the media along at least part of the media validation pathway.
According to a third aspect of the present invention, there is provided a media escrow unit, the unit comprising:
a media receptacle for receiving media;
a media removal path, leading from the media receptacle;
a media return path, leading to the media receptacle; and
means for transferring media from the receptacle to the removal path;
in use, the media removal path being in communication with the media return path.
The escrow unit of the present invention may be used in implementing the other aspects of the present invention, as will be described.
Conveniently, the media transfer means may comprise a media picker, such as a vacuum pick or a friction pick unit; or the transfer means may comprise means for removing media from the receptacle to a first location, and means for transferring media from the first location to the media removal path.
Preferably the unit further comprises means for biasing media against the media transfer means. Conveniently the media receptacle may be adapted to bias media against the media transfer means. Preferably the receptacle is movable, to selectively bias media against the media transfer means. Alternatively, the biasing means may comprise a spring-urged plate or the like, arranged to urge media against the transfer means.
Conveniently the receptacle is movable to a position to allow receipt or presentation of media. Alternatively, the unit may comprise means for allowing receipt or presentation of media to or from the receptacle; for example, rollers, guides or conveyors.
According to a fourth aspect of the present invention, there is provided a self-service terminal (SST), the SST comprising:
a media escrow unit comprising a media receptacle for receiving media; a media removal path, leading from the media receptacle; a media return path, leading to the media receptacle; and a media picker for transferring media from the receptacle to the removal path;
means for validating media; and
accepted media storage;
the media removal path selectively communicating with both the media return path and the accepted media storage such that a first media flow path lies along the media removal path, through the means for validating media, to the media return path, and a second media flow path lies along the media removal path to the accepted media storage.
Preferably the SST further comprises one or more media dispense units for dispensing media, with a media flow path leading from the dispense unit or units, passing through the means for validating media, to the media return path.
Conveniently the accepted media storage further comprises means for dispensing stored media to a media flow path, the flow path leading to the media return path.
Preferably the SST further comprises rejected media storage.