Futurists have long proclaimed the coming of a cashless society, where euro and credit cards are replaced by fingerprint and retina scanners smart enough to distinguish a living, breathing account holder from an identity thief.
What they probably didn’t see coming was that one such technology would make its debut not in Silicon Valley but at a small college in South Dakota.
Two shops on the School of Mines and Technology campus are performing one of the world’s first experiments in biocryptology — a mix of biometrics (using physical traits for identification) and cryptology (the study of encoding private information).
Students at the Rapid City school can buy a bag of crisps with a machine that non-intrusively detects their haemoglobin to make sure the transaction is legitimate.
Researchers figure their technology would provide a critical safeguard against a morbid scenario sometimes found in spy movies in which a thief removes someone else’s finger to fool the scanner.
Mechanical engineering major Bernard Keeler handed a Red Bull to a cashier in the Miner’s Shack campus shop, typed his birth date into a pay pad, and swiped his finger. Within seconds, the machine had identified his print and checked that blood was pulsing beneath it, allowing him to make the buy.
Afterwards, Keeler proudly showed off the receipt he was sent via email on his smartphone.
Fingerprint technology isn’t new, but it’s the extra layer of protection — that deeper check to ensure the finger has a pulse — that researchers say sets this technology apart.
Al Maas, president of Nexus USA — a subsidiary of Spanish-based Hanscan Identity Management, which patented the technology — acknowledged South Dakota might seem an unlikely locale to test it, but to him, it was a perfect fit.