Surveillance And Intrinsic: Advances In Camera Technology For Vending Machines And ATMs

by Steve Heard, IDS sales director
Posted On: 11/30/2014

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TAGS: vending, vending machine cameras, vending security, DS Imaging Development Systems, video technology, camera technology, facial recognition technology, webcam, IP cameras, PeachInc., Steve Hearn

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Sponsor: IDS Imaging Development Systems

Video and camera technology is used in a wide range of vending machines from food and beverage-type dispensers to ticketing kiosks and ATMs. Applications range from video security to prevent damage and theft, to uses of cameras as an intrinsic part of the transaction, such as reading barcodes or QR codes for access control.

Newer applications or trial or in development include using video for marketing and to boost sales and biometrics for enhanced security. Facial recognition has an important role to play in both current and future applications.

Cameras in surveillance applications

Surveillance cameras are used extensively in any areas where property is to be protected, but there is a growing use of camera technology actually inside vending machines and ATMs. For vending machines, this is largely to protect against vandalism when people shake, kick or open the door to the machine to steal the contents and cash.

Indeed, there have been instances of people arrested for vending machine vandalism as the result of video recorded from an internal security camera. Cameras installed in ATMs can provide clear and detailed images of the people involved in transactions, with video footage linked to individual transactions.

Appropriate selection of lenses and field of view will allow the area surrounding the cash machine to be monitored as well. Clear imaging of the faces of the people involved in transactions is crucial in identifying potential hackers or those trying to force others into giving them the money they have withdrawn from the ATM.

Cameras intrinsic to machine operation

In addition to surveillance functions, there are several applications in which camera technology is used as an intrinsic part of the machine. One major example is in the field of e-ticketing; here, customers ordering tickets to events receive an e-ticket containing a barcode or QR code to their computers, mobile phones or tablets. This is then used for access to the event via an access control unit like an automated turnstile.

This requires the turnstile to be able to optically read the code. This can be printed out in advance and a paper version presented to the reader, or in some cases, the code can be read directly from the screen of the mobile device. Either way, camera technology within the unit is used to read the code, although barcodes can have some limitations and some manufacturers have introduced their own codes.

This technology is being developed for new ATMs, too, with an added layer of biometric security such as facial recognition. Indeed there are suggestions that facial recognition software could be incorporated into more general point-of-sale equipment.

Cameras for marketing applications

Camera technology can also be used in "smart" vending machines to boost sales. A new type of drink dispenser recently introduced in Japan uses facial recognition to identify consumers by gender and age and then shows images of "recommended" drinks on a screen. These recommendations will be based not only on the demographics of the customers but also according to the time of the day and the temperature.

Camera technology

The image quality produced by cameras used in vending machines, ATMs and kiosks is very important and is dependent on a number of factors, including:

» Adequate field of view to make sure that the required image can be captured
» Sufficient resolution to get sharp images
» Good dynamic range to allow for a variety of external lighting conditions
» Use with specialist software such as facial recognition and code reading

The most commonly used systems used in vending machines are webcams or IP cameras. However, the use of cameras more common in machine vision or industrial vision applications provides an interesting alternative.

Webcam type cameras need to be connected to a computer (usually an embedded computer module), whereas IP cameras transmit data over the Internet, either by Ethernet lines or wirelessly.

A system's cost is a key consideration. IP cameras are probably around twice as expensive as webcams, and industrial cameras tend to be most expensive, but the other benefits they offer can mean a lower overall cost for the machine manufacturer.

The two key benefits of industrial cameras are their longevity of supply and the level of in-camera control functions that they offer. Longevity of supply is particularly important when it comes to product certification. Any product containing an electronic clock or a processor running at more than 9kHz (which includes cameras) sold in the U.S. must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission. Some webcams do not have FCC approval and therefore should not be used.

In addition, webcams are frequently upgraded with newer models coming to market. Since complete products such as the vending machine itself will also need FCC approval, it is possible that if the camera changes during the production lifetime of the vending machine, the whole machine may have to go through the approval stage again.

Similarly, for a global market, a UL listing is also preferred. Underwriters Laboratories is a world leader in the provision of independent, third party product safety testing and certification.

Industrial vision cameras not only tend to have a much longer product life cycle than webcams and so are available for supply for much longer, but are also usually FCC approved and UL listed.

Camera software is another important consideration. Not only are webcams frequently upgraded with new hardware, but their software upgrades often result in old features being replaced by new ones, which could be problematic for a system relying on a particular function.

Industrial vision cameras are generally supplied with a software development kit (SDK), which provides a consistent and reliable environment. New features can be uploaded to existing cameras as well as old features still being supported, with the added benefit that a particular manufacturer's SDK can often be used with all the cameras in its range.

Many vending machines use embedded computer systems often featuring ARM processors so it is important that the cameras used have drivers for these. Even boards such as the hugely popular Raspberry Pi credit card-size computer have applications in vending machines.

Since industrial camera manufacturers can provide all the necessary image-processing software and hardware required, there is no need to engage a third-party partner for image processing. High-resolution images create a lot of data so image compression is frequently used in these types of applications.

As mentioned above, facial-recognition software plays an important part of many vending machine and ATM applications, but it is important to understand that facial recognition processing must be carried out before the image is compressed.

vending machine cameras
PHOTO: UEye XS USB 2.0 camera.

Webcams generally deliver only a video stream, meaning it is not possible to asynchronously pick a single image. Such industrial cameras as the XS from IDS Imaging Development Systems are useful in image-processing applications because they can be used in either with automatic functions or in a completely manual mode and with uncompressed images.

The IDS driver can accept uncompressed images, but it can also provide a compressed stream in H264 or MJPEG to other users elsewhere on the network. The XS camera integrates into vending machine applications thanks to its USB 2.0 interface and Mini B USB 2.0 connector and integrated power supply. Other cameras from the same company can offer different resolutions and alternative interfaces such as USB or GigE Vision yet all make use of the same SDK.

The XS provides excellent color image detail through its high resolution sensor giving 5MP video at 15 fps, which is higher than full HD resolution. Automatic image control functions, including auto white balance, auto gain and auto exposure time, are performed in the camera itself, meaning that the camera will automatically adapt to changing light conditions although gain and shutter speed can be limited to ensure that the camera provides images that are acceptable for any type of processing.

Together with exposure compensation, backlight compensation, photometry and anti-flicker function options, there is huge scope for adapting the automatic image control. Autofocus from 10 cm upwards means that images are always sharp and details can be looked at close-up with digital zoom.

uEye cameras in kiosk applications

One manufacturer of ticketing kiosks, PeachInc., developed its own format of barcode for e-ticketing, the MorrisCode, which was designed specifically to be scanned from a mobile phone screen. This presented a unique set of challenges as different phones displayed the code in different sizes and at different brightness levels.

vending machine cameras
PHOTO:E-ticketing kiosk from PeachInc. consists of: (a) touchscreen (b) phone/ticket entrance (c) illuminated camera Box (d) camera (e) touchscreen back panel (f) cooler (g) connection terminal.

Having developed a scanning algorithm that worked well with a normal USB webcam, PeachInc. started to produce commercial kiosks to scan tickets at stadiums and other ticket venues. For these kiosks the best level of scanning possible was required, so industrial USB cameras were investigated. The uEye range of cameras met all of the needs. In addition to providing remarkably clear images, they could be set to the focus distance required, to adjust to varying lighting conditions and to provide a frame rate high enough for almost instant scanning.

While using an industrial camera may present increased upfront costs there is a clear benefit over time when considering costs that may be incurred using a consumer item. Many of these costs aren't considered during the design process but probably should be.


Steve Hearn, vending machine cameras, IDS Imaging About The Author | STEVE HEARN is UK sales director for IDS Imaging Development Systems, a manufacturer of industrial cameras headquartered in Obersulm, Germany. He has more than 30 years of experience in the camera and machine vision market. Visit ids-imaging.com for more information.


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