ATM coating targets COVID-19 and other ‘nasty things’

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A new feature on ATMs and interactive teller machines is intended to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

NCR, a global firm that provides ATMs and ITMs for banks and credit unions, recently unveiled an antimicrobial coating that can be applied to machines in hopes of killing COVID-19. The coating, which is wiped over the surface, is intended to mitigate transmission of any pathogen through touch.

Neil Harris, director of product marketing at NCR, explained that the coating forms a nanobed shield of spikes on top of the ATM surface which carry a positive charge and attract negatively charged microbes such as pathogens, viruses and bacteria. The coating attracts those “nasty things,” as Harris called them, and pierces the cell of the membrane, causing it to die, reducing the likelihood that the virus could be spread through surface contact.

The application takes about 30 minutes and is said to provide up to six months of protection. Harris did not offer details on pricing but noted that the coating does not require any retrofitting or hardware upgrades for a financial institution’s machinery, and can also be used on other kiosks, such as point-of-sale terminals.

The formula for the coating is similar to silicon dioxide products developed the early 1970s, said Harris.

“If you buy a bottle of bleach or toilet cleaner and you look at the list of viruses [and] microbes [killed by the product], it’s very similar in that regard," he added.

ATMs were proven to be filthy before the pandemic, but the coronavirus raised new concerns about cleanliness and whether COVID-19 could be transmitted through surface contact. Many consumers wiped down their groceries early in the current crisis in order to protect against germs, and some libraries that have reopened continue to quarantine items for short periods of time before recirculating them.

However, research in recent months has confirmed that surface transmission risks are minimal and instead, the virus can be spread through the air, increasing the need for widespread mask usage.

That raises questions about how effective the coating might be.

Kelly Reynolds, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona, said scientists have studied these types of antimicrobial coatings and determined “they have some measurable, significant efficacy … not just in preventing growth but in killing organisms in relatively rapid timeframes.”

Similar coatings, she added, are already used in hospitals and other environments, and now that the Environmental Protection Agency has provided emergency approval for similar products, “I think you will start to see more widespread use of them.”

Reynolds added that while the technique NCR uses is based on a formula developed in the 1970s, today’s products can’t be compared against those of the past, in part because they affect “a much broader range of microorganisms.”

Harris acknowledged that while scientists' understanding of how the virus spreads has changed since the spring, “anything out there that provides a more hygienic experience is a good thing," he said.

He added: “There is still a risk, albeit minimal. Most research now suggests [the virus] is more airborne and actually the most effective way to combat COVID is personal hygiene, hand-washing, social distancing and the wearing of masks. It now appears transmission from physical devices is secondary to that of person-to-person airborne transmission. But it’s still important that we provide our customers with a comprehensive set of solutions that allows them to make any banking transaction safe and hygienic.”

NCR representatives did not share how many U.S.-based banks or credit unions are using the product, but FirstOntario Credit Union in Canada had the coating applied in late summer.

“We hadn’t heard any reports back from our membership that they were concerned around ATMs or ITMs specifically, but it was one of those questions that came into our pandemic planning: ‘What can we do to better protect the member at the digital level for ATMs and ITMs?' " said Colin Grant, assistant vice president of infrastructure and security at the $5.8 billion-asset FirstOntario. "Whether it was cleaning on a regular basis or when this opportunity came up from NCR, it just made sense from a simplicity and logistics standpoint.”

FirstOntario’s machines include signage provided by NCR that informs members about the new protection, and an announcement was also included in the member newsletter. About 60 machines currently have the coating.

Grant added that the difference between surface and airborne transmission wasn’t a consideration for FirstOntario.

“It was just having that precautionary measure out there," he said. "Some of the studies … showed that there was definitely a benefit to potentially kill the virus on contact. Whether that’s entirely true, I can’t say for sure, but it was a precautionary measure we were willing to take.”

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ATMs Workplace safety and security NCR Coronavirus
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