We haven't yet reached the point where most consumers can leave their wallets at home and head to a cash register with only a mobile phone. But some new mobile payments solutions are eliminating the need for either.
Payment solution Quixter scans the vein pattern in a person's palm, which is as unique as a fingerprint, says inventor Fredrik Leifland. A student at Lund University, in southern Sweden, Leifland thought of the idea two years ago while standing in a slow line waiting to pay for something.
"I saw that to pay is quite complex and a process that takes a lot of time. So I thought, there must be an easier way," Leifland says in a video created by the university.
Quixter is now set up in 15 stores and restaurants around the university, with more than 1,600 people signed up.
Interested parties can sign up for Quixter at any store that supports it. Signing up requires sharing your phone number and Social Security number, connecting the service to a bank account (via a debit card) and then scanning your palm several times. To use Quixter, a user sets her hand down into a plastic, hand-shaped cradle for a quick moment and punches in the last four numbers of her phone number, using a keypad below a small screen. An infrared light scans the palm to verify identity.
Leifland, in the video, suggests the number-punching is actually irrelevant, but he included it because people want a moment to pause and note of the process and the price they're paying.
"A transaction takes less than 5 seconds," he says.
A user's purchases accumulate on an invoice, and twice a month the due payments' total is extracted from the bank account.
"We had to connect all the players ourselves, which was quite complex—the vein-scanning terminals, the banks, the stores and the customers," Leifland told the Agence France-Presse (AFP), according to an April 14 report.
In New Jersey, a company called Biyo (formerly PulseWallet) has been up to the same thing. Its founders argue that palm scanning is more sanitary than fingerprint scanning, particularly in use cases where lots of people (such as in a store) are touching the same reader.
They also say that airlines are considering the technology as a "new type of boarding pass," according to My9NJ.
Transparency Market Research has forecast fingerprint biometric devices to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 20 percent between 2013 and 2019, and for hand, vein, face and iris recognition to be the fastest-growing among other biometric technologies. The health care biometrics market alone is expected to have a value of $5.8 billion by 2019.
While vein scanning isn't new, the public—eased in with fingerprint readers on the Apple iPhone 5S, and before that countless enterprise-geared laptops—may finally be ready for it.
In 2012, a Louisiana elementary school tried to implement a vein scanner to speed along payments in its cafeteria lunch line, which was so long and slow that some students didn't have enough time to eat. According to a local news report, parents were outraged after receiving a note home saying that unless they sent in a letter objecting, their child would have his or her palms scanned.
Many of the parents objected for religious reasons, and said that if the program were implemented they'd pull their kids from the school.
When it comes to tying body parts to identity authentication and payments, be assured: Opt-in—not out—is the way to go.