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Membership Box bill acceptor training

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:

  • Currently, I.T supports well over one hundred currencies
  • The NV10 is the only device on the market that offered training via a USB port
  • I was able to ask questions of the manufacturer pertaining to preparing the machine for Japanese Yen, and they answered me via email within a day.
  • Their retailer in China was very specific about notifiying me that it currently did not support JPY, and wanted to be sure I had confirmed with the folks in the UK that they would work with me before he was willing to sell it. This shows at least a bit of integrety on the part of their vendors.
  • Throughout the process, the staff in the UK had been very helpful and responsive

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 in a nutshell

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:

  • As the bill is inserted, one light sensor detects the forward edge. This sensor also detects the back side edge of the bill. From this (and the travel rate of the bill, known by controlling the motors which pull the bill into the head), the machine calculates the length of the bill. Many currencies (JPY included) have differing lengths for each denomination. Its helpful for the blind, as well as our validator
  • A suite of other sensors pass light through the bill, and receive it on the other side. This can be visible, IR or UV (new tech). The sensors record 'tracks' of data. Based on the paper type and ink, we get differing patterns depending on the currency. What YOU see printed on the paper is not what the UV sensor sees reading THROUGH the paper.
  • Bill acceptors do not 'scan' a bill in the way a photo scanner attached to your computer does. There is no data in the head that resembles a photograph.
  • Modern bill acceptors also have a magnetic pickup to detect the metal wire embedded in some bills. Again, due to the fact that we have motor speed data, as well as the bill start and stop length, the head knows precisely where on the bill the wire is placed.
  • The head then compares the data to it's stored data and determines which denomination the bill is likely to be based on pattern matching. Another calculation against a 'variance' or 'accuracy' setting decides if the bill is "close enough" to be validated.
  • The controlling computer then has the option of holding onto the bill while the user confirms selections, before finally sending the bill on to a stacker, or to drop it into a bin.

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.


How to train a BA

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

  • Face up, face forward
  • Face up, face backwards
  • Face down, face forward
  • Face down, face backwards

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.


Getting firmware

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.


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