Video: Meet ecoATM, The Reverse Vending Machine That Takes Your Phone & Spits Out Cash

I’m down in sunny San Diego for the CTIA wireless conference — which, thanks to some last minute announcement cancellations, is about as exciting as listening to Ben Stein narrate grass growing.

On the upside, the absence of back-to-back press conferences (or really, any press conferences) has allowed me some time to actually roam the show floor for the first time in a long while. Turns out, there’s some pretty cool stuff hiding in there.

Take this one, for example: Called the ecoATM, it’s essentially a reverse vending machine for phone sales — or, put another way, it’s the concept of Gazelle (or any other online cell phone/gadget buyback service) made into a kiosk. Insert old phone, get money back.

How it works:

  • The soon-to-be-seller finds a real-world kiosk (likely in a mall, grocery store, or other location with heavy foot traffic.)
  • They place their phone into the machine, while the machine assures them that it will not damage the phone nor read/copy any personal data from the device
  • The machine visually identifies the phone as best it can from a database of around 4,000 devices.
  • The machine then uses some fancy AI and visual recognition trickery to scope the device for damage, and offers up a device-compatible cable connection which allows it to analyze whether or not the device boots.
  • Based on the type of phone and the shape it’s in, ecoATM makes an offer.
  • Users can then cash out (or cancel the transaction and get their phone back at any time), with the option to donate any percentage of the sale to any one of many charities.

We originally spotted the ecoATM a few months back, but this is the first time we’ve actually seen one in action and been able to get it on video. They’ve since rolled around to 23 test locations in the Souther California area, with Northern California locations planned for the near future (Valley Fair in San Jose was named as one upcoming location.)

Fittingly, ecoATM tells me that their primary investor is Coinstar — which, if you’re unfamiliar, is a company that takes all that change rattling around in your pockets and converts it into gift cards for major retailers by way of a similar kiosk setup. Oh, and they own Redbox, the rather popular DVD kiosk service. Yeah, these guys dig kiosks.

Check out the demo video below. Pardon the audible roar of the conference center in the background — it was a bit of an impromptu shoot. (Notice that the prototype shown in the video is different than the one pictured above; the one in the video is the more recent build)