April 28, 2016      

Testing point-of-sale systems is particularly tedious, but it’s a necessary task as U.S. retailers shift to cards with embedded chips to comply with international specifications.

Santiago, Chile-based Rhiscom SA offers to make POS testing much easier with robotic testing. “Testing is a nightmare,” said Connie Driscoll, CEO of Connie Driscoll Associates, a Rhiscom distributor in Fort Myers, Fla. “Point-of-sale [POS] systems no longer use IBM punch cards; they’re all software-driven and Intel-based but are typically tested manually.”

“One company has 300 cash registers just for testing of software,” she told Robotics Business Review. “They have to respond monthly to requirements for merchandising, marketing, security, and credit-card readers. It’s really difficult.”

“From application development, a new release is typically turned over to the quality assurance people; then the software is ready to go back to the developers or to stores,” Driscoll said. “Testing POS software is repetitive and boring.”

“Grocery chains tend to have separate testing groups for checkout and, say, fuel pumps, and the systems need to be tested in real-world environments,” she said. “There’s nothing worse in a retailer’s life than to have a POS system not work.”

Last year, Starbucks Corp. suffered a day-long outage that affected more than 10,000 stores and cost it millions of dollars. “There are a lot of advantages to using an automated regression-testing system,” Driscoll said. “The value proposition is huge because the testing cycle can go from three weeks to 24 hours.”

Rhiscom robot speedily swipes

Rhiscom’s Automaton system consists of a robot-operated POS device, a tower with dual processors and use cases, and a display and keyboard for the person running the tests. It is custom-built and assembled by Rhiscom.

Peripherals such as a scale, a cash register, or a coin changer can be virtualized. The virtualization of the register depends on the vendor — most likely NCR Corp. or Hewlett-Packard Co. However, the PIN pad and card swiper can’t be virtualized because they’re encrypted, explained Driscoll.

Rhiscom’s robot can press buttons, write signatures on a touchscreen, and hold and swipe up to 32 cards. “It can also test iPhone transactions,” Driscoll said.

In addition, the robotic portion of Automaton fits into the same space as a rack-mounted server, so it can be locked down in a corporate data center and installed multiple units at a time.

Latin American ingenuity

“Rhiscom has about 60 staffers in Santiago, where they do a good job of teaching modern software development in schools,” said Driscoll. “Chile has become a go-to place for outsourcing.”

“The owners are brothers,” she said. “Marco Ribo worked as a software developer on IBM’s POS systems about 16 years ago and is planning on moving to the U.S. From here, it’s easier to support the Mexican market.”

“Their traditional business was software development supporting POS. His brother will take care of that side in Chile,” said Driscoll.

“Latin America has been using chip cards for years,” she said. The POS robot is already in use at Tiendas Liverpool, a major department store chain in Mexico, and Farmasanitas, a pharmacy chain in Columbia. Both have experienced significant productivity improvements.

“The U.S. is one of the last countries to use this technology, and it’s our largest market,” Driscoll said. “The problem in the U.S. is that retail IT departments are still so busy implementing EMV cards that they have yet to adopt automated testing,” she said, referring to the interoperability specification for chip cards.

Rhiscom's Automation system for POS testing

Rhiscom’s POS testing system includes robotic and software components.

“The payment processors provided some tools for EMV migration,” Driscoll said. “But they didn’t test any of the other logic.”

Groupo HDI, Toshiba Corp., and others offer automated testing services. “The tools are quite expensive, and there’s a huge backlog in getting certified,” she said. “If there are any bugs in the program, a retailer has to go back to the end of the line,” she noted. “It’s a ‘project from hell,’ said one customer.”

Prospects beyond POS testing

“Most testing labs have more than 25 POS units dedicated to testing,” Driscoll said. “Retailers can buy multiple robots and reduce that to two or three.”

“Rhiscom conforms with National Retail Federation Standards,” she added. “The implementation fee for automated testing as a service is about $130,000 to $150,000, and that includes a custom build.”

Rhiscom’s service includes virtualization, integration, and test cases.

“The robot has to be taught each case manually once, and it turns that into XML code that drives the execution process,” Driscoll said. “The CNC [Computer Numerical Control] has to be calibrated by the leading PIN pad manufacturers.”

After implementation, there is a monthly fee of $7,600 dollars per setup, and “that is pretty easy to cost-justify,” according to Driscoll. Rhiscom first exhibited its POS testing system at the 2012 National Retail Federation show and demonstrated it this year in New York.

The company is currently marketing its robot to retailers and is in talks with banks in Chile.

“Eventually, the system could be used by airlines for testing self-check-in and by hospitals,” Driscoll said. “There’s a lot of opportunity.”