That smily faced slot is a bill acceptor. It is mounted in a box, which will soon be a membership payment system for the Tokyo HackerSpace.
A while back, I ordered a NV10USB bill acceptor, made by Innovative Technology. They are in the UK, but I ordered the machine from a retailer in China.
I chose this particular device because I am in Japan. There are few if any acceptors on the market available to the individual that accepts Japanese currency. It would seem that the two or three companies that make these things in the country have the market locked up. I had actually contacted one of said companies, and got the brush off. They dont want to deal with people. It would seem that there is no room for DIY or innovation in the Japanese vending market.
Oh well, time to go it alone! So I hunted around and found no machines that took Japanese yen. So my next search was for machines that could be "trained" to accept yen, and that were manufactured by understanding and helpful companies. The Company I decided on was Innovative Technology and the NV10USB. This is why:
About a week after I ordered, I received the unit. Excitedly, I powered it up. Hey man read the manual. It took me a few tries to figure out how to get the thing to go into USB mode, and get drivers installed. During the software installation process (no CDs. manuals and software are on the web site), I found out I had to create an account and request the appropriate software. This was a bit of a drag. But once I had gone through the whole training process, it actually made sense, as you well see in a few moments.
Anyway, created an account and got the software and drivers working.
By the way, it should be noted that you will need a somewhat beefy 12 volt supply for this acceptor. The USB cable has a header connector on the end that hooks to the acceptor. Also on this header are two thick power wires (red and black). I used a repurposed supply from an old settop box (it ran a hard drive, so I figured it was good enough). I have that supply mounted in a case, and use it on my bench occasionally.
Bill validation is actually quite simple in principal. We really only need to pass the bill through a series of sensors, and record the data to a memory. Then, when we want to accept a bill, we pass it through the sensor set as well. We compare the data to that of the recorded information. If the pattern match is 'close enough' we can accept the bill and credit the user.
The basic techniques have not changed much since the first validators. Essentially, we measure the following parameters:
Most of the technology innovations in bill validation involve optics and processing power. Not long ago, it would have been impossible to retrain a bill acceptor in the field, and certainly not by one guy who bought on validator. Processing power and memory limitations meant that the head was preprogrammed at the factory to accept one currency (and often only one or two denominations. How often do you still see machines that only accept 1 dollar bills?) Currencies also had size differences, meaning that some currencies would not fit into a foreign acceptor. Thus, if you wanted to accept some other currency, you would have no choice but to buy a new validator, designed specifically for that currency.
In the case of optics, we now have new wavelengths available from LED manufacturers. Bill Validator manufacturers can specify very specific wavelengths and bulk order prices would not be to expensive to be practical. Combined with modern printing techniques and agressive mint practices to control counterfiting, Its clear that BV manufactures need to stay on the top of their game, while simultaniously providing a lot of options and configurability for their users.
Modern BV manufacturers are no longer in the "bill acceptance" business. They are in the "counterfit rejection" business.
So, to train the machine, you will need a lot of bills. For Japanese currency, I wanted to cover 1000 yen, 5000 yen and 10000 yen bills. There is a 2000 yen bill as well, but it is rare, and only found at banks. Most people collect rather than spend them. You will need about 30 of each bill.
This BA can accept bills in all 4 directions, that is
You need to understand these terms, and how they relate to your currency. If you mix them up, you will muck up your data file pretty good. You wont get back a functional firmware file.
To train, you start the software (called SMART Data) and select the bill type. Before hand, you would have indicated that you want to create a new currency file, and how many bill types (and their denomination) you will be adding.
Then you simply insert each bill in all four directions. BUT: you need to be sure to select the bill direction each time. So, my suggestion is that you do several bills in one direction, then change modes and do them all the other direction. You can do 10 bills FUFF, then flip them around and run them again FUFB.
Once you have trained enough bills, Innovative Technologie's software allows you to submit the data file. It is this step in which it becomes apparent why you need an account. The process is super simple. Just click the button. The software send the data file to the manufacturer. Within 48 hours, you will receive an email with the firmware of your trained currency. You then run a different program, which loads this firmware file onto the bill acceptor. After that you are pretty much ready to start accepting cash. (There are plenty of configuration options to play with. Read the manual.)
IT should be noted that if your currency is on the current list of supported currencies, than your process is MUCH reduced. Really, just download the currency pack, as well as the firmware update software. A few clicks later, you'll be in business. Training is only for new currencies.
There are a lot of BAs on the market for the DIY crowd to make their own vending machines with. Many are much cheaper than the NV10USB. Had it not been for the fact that I am in Japan, and no one seems to support Japanese Yen, I would have chosen some other device. But given that this was one of the few that supported training (and the only one confirmed to be able to deal with JPY), I dont feel like I had any other choice.
That being said, Innovative Technology has been incredibly helpful. I'm just one guy, buying a single bill acceptor, from a third party vendor on the other side of the globe from them. They didnt have to be helpful, but they were. If there is any question at all about needing customer support after purchase, I would advise you to buy one of their products. They support nearly every currency already, and for the few that they dont, training is not that difficult.
The acceptor can be trained to accept other items as well, such as cupons or tickets (so long as the paper material is compatible with the head). You can easily add these items simply by importing your currency into SMART Data, then adding a new item, and training your tickets into the head. Then submit the file and wait a day for them to compile the new firmware.
In every respect, I am impressed by the product and company.