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Updated: April 26, 2010 16:24 IST

Hard cash at touch of a button

Karthik Madhavan
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Instant money: A matter of convenience. Photo: S. Siva Saravanan
Instant money: A matter of convenience. Photo: S. Siva Saravanan

It is an interesting process. Do check out.

Most of you must have been to an ATM, right? You would have observed how your dad or mom swipes the card, punches a few keys and then collects money from the dispenser.

But how many of you paused for a moment and thought how it works?

A hundred and twenty students attending the “Junior Einstein” summer camp in Coimbatore did exactly that. They wanted to know not only about the technology behind ATM (automated teller machine) but also how to carry out safe and secure transaction using the ATM/credit cards.

Hari Sankar, Chief Commercial Officer, Kusters Engineering India, explained to the students how an ATM works. His company manufacturers and sells machines that help banks.

ATM, simply put, is an interactive machine to which you identify who you are and mention your cash requirements. After checking if you are the person operating the card, it dispenses cash.

The identification and authentication happen with the use of the ATM or credit card. To do so, the ATM has something called a card reader. It reads data from the magnetic strip on the rear of the card and starts interacting with you.

It then prompts you for a PIN (personal identification number). After you key in the secret number, the ATM sends your data and the PIN through a switch to the bank's server. The switch is nothing but software.

Once the card details and PIN matches, the ATM asks you to type in the cash required. The detail is processed and cash from cassettes is dispensed.

If you insert a card from a different bank, the ATM switch routes the details to the server of the bank concerned. If it is a foreign bank, the details are sent via two other software gateways.

Mr. Sankar explains that cassettes are storage spaces with four small cabinets to accommodate 1000 rupees, 500 rupees and 100 rupee notes. In each cabinet, 2,500 notes can be filled.

ATM usually functions in an air-conditioned, dust-free environment.

It has uninterrupted power supply and also a seismic sensor. The latter alerts the video camera inside the ATM room if somebody tries to shake vigorously, damage or break open the machine.

The camera is also activated if somebody operates a card after exhausting three attempts to enter the PIN.

While banks own the machine, they do not fill in the cash. The task is carried out by cash in transit companies. CMS, Writers, Brinks are few of the leading companies that are engaged in filling the ATM with cash.

To safely operate the card, Mr. Sankar says ensure that no one is around when you operate the ATM, close your hand as you type the PIN and never share card or PIN details.

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