Meet MonRo, the money robot
by Mike Lee, CEO, ATM Industry Association (with thanks to Alexander Kamyshnikov and Anastasia Gorbunova)
I first saw the money robot (trademarked MonRo) in February in the exhibition hall at the 17th annual ATMIA US conference and expo in New Orleans.
Even in the midst of a period of accelerated innovation in the global ATM industry, in which a range of new customer interfaces, operating systems and functions has emerged, it was striking to see the role of robots being taken so seriously in self-service.
It was literally an eye-opener to watch the central robot arm operating behind three conjoined terminals which, together, provide an imaginative hybrid of an ATM — currency exchange; vending machine; safe deposit boxes; storage and retrieval services; and coin and gold bullion.
The money robot can do all of that; words escape me in trying to nail down a term descriptive of this versatile machine. In 15 years in this industry, I've never seen anything quite like it.
You could call it a robotic consumer bank hub. Whereas ATMs are automated tellers, this is an automated bank branch. Its manufacturers call it a Self-Service Robotic System.
What's most impressive to me, as a futurist, is that the technology blends today's automation solutions with industrial robotic systems. This necessitates many components but its underlying modular structure offers customizable configurations.
MonRo's Russian inventor, Alexander Kamyshnikov, sees it not just as a machine, but as a work of art in the sense that a complex set of technologies has been integrated into a compact and straightforward design on an imaginative scale.
This integrated complexity is evident in the series of patent drawings Alexander shared with me.
The inventor of the Money Robot was born in Moscow in 1960 into a family of aviation engineers. In his youth, Alexander developed a great interest in mathematics, physics and science fiction.
While studying cybernetics and technological process automation at the Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute in 1979, he encountered, for the first time, a robotic manipulator in the institute's laboratory. Alexander was impressed when he witnessed the robot arm pouring beer from a bottle into a glass.
After working in space design in the 1980s, Alexander established a firm that manufactured automated systems for Sberbank, Russia's largest savings bank. In 1995, he founded the Banking Production Center — with Sberbank as its largest shareholder — supplying both software and hardware to Russian banks.
Later, with Vladimir Evtushenko, he set up SmartCard-Service, specializing in self-service banking systems.
The company's most successful product was Teller Machine Explorer (aka TellMe), multivendor ATM software that implemented the WOSA/XFS standard. Since 2000, TellMe has notched up more than 110,000 installations in Russia and neighboring countries.
Life changed for Alexander in 2009 when he met his current wife, Irina Gorbunova, the president and founder of Quantum Systems Inc. Within a year they opened a subsidiary in Moscow. This company developed the new Quantum brand of light banking kiosks, which have been implemented in Russia and Kazakhstan.
Today, Quantum Systems has a new strategic direction — integrating robotics and artificial intelligence systems into self-service.
Working with a group of young design engineers, programmers, and mathematicians in association with well-known Russian universities, they've developed the Money Robot system, which has just reached the shores of the United States.
I asked Alexander what had led to the creation of MonRo. He told me that an earlier attempt at building a cash recycler with multiple client interfaces had sown the seeds of a futuristic machine that could combine storage and complex mechanisms for a variety of retail self-service functionalities.
Whatever the future of MonRo proves to be, we're likely to see a big increase in the use of robotics in self-service in the coming years.
"As in other industries — for example in grocery store self-checkouts — the next generation of self-service robots are specifically made with human-robot interaction safety in mind," Alexander said. "We believe that all service applications will be infiltrated by robotics as time goes on, just as the science fiction writers of the previous century predicted. It seems inevitable that robotics will play a much greater role in self-service banking in the future."
For now, it is prohibitively expensive to mass-manufacture robots, but the costs are starting to come down and may reach a tipping point in the not-too-distant future.
"The costs are high as this is still innovative and new technology," Alexander told me. "While robots are being produced in tens of thousands per year, the cost of production remains high. [W]ith ATMs, the price of production fell many times in the last 15 years, as the ATMs became ubiquitous. When output numbers grow to hundreds of thousands per year, the unit price will come down as dictated by economies of scale."
Assuming that robotics does indeed reach these economies of scale in self-service, I asked Alexander whether we would have anything to fear from robots and robotics in financial services.
"There used to be danger that a robot could hurt a person who comes into proximity with it," he said. "The new generation of robots, however, is safe for working around humans. They have safety features that make them stop moving when someone is in [their] working proximity, making them safe to operate in open spaces, even without casing. As far as financial services are concerned, the robots are much safer than humans because a robot would never think of stealing your cash!"
As I thanked Alexander for sharing his insights and foresight regarding the Money Robot, I wondered whether MonRo was about to open up a new future for the self-service industry.
Is science fiction already in the process of becoming science fact in our industry?
Quantum Systems (www.quantumspace.com) is an international group of companies with locations in United States and Russia. Quantum develops innovative robotics and automation solutions tailored to the specific needs of the banking industry.
Mike Leehas served since 2005 as CEO of theATM Industry Association, a nonprofit trade group with members in 65 countries. He is also a Full Member of the Association of Professional Futurists and the author of "Knowing our Future — the startling case for futurology" and "Codebreaking our Future — deciphering the future's hidden order," available at Amazon books.
photo stills and video courtesy Quantum Systems