So you think current “tap and go” payments are cool? Then brace yourself for finger recognition technology. The concept is rather straightforward: biometric authentication uses pattern-recognition techniques based on images of human finger patterns. This, as you can imagine, has great potential in the electronic payments area.
Once you’re registered for such a service, all you need to do to pay for items is place your finger into a reader at the point of purchase. This shines an infrared light through your finger, the haemoglobin in your blood absorbs the infrared, and the reader can see the unique pattern in your veins to identify the payer. Combined with a few other medical measurements, this creates a ‘crypto-key’ to unlock your registered bank accounts, debit or credit cards. An alternative technique is to get an image of your finger, whereby it needs to determine whether the pattern of ridges and valleys in this image matches the pattern of ridges and valleys in pre-scanned images to gain access to your accounts.
This simple workflow is the epitome of convenience, because it eliminates the need to carry a wallet or phone to pay for items or services in a physical retail environment (especially where foot traffic is high, such as supermarkets, events and public transit). Furthermore, there’s also the possibility of developing a portable reader you could plug into a computer or mobile device to allow a more personalised experience at home or in a private space. No more passwords to remember or the risk of plastic getting lost or stolen.
The need for a strong security framework
However, with convenience comes potential security issues. What happens if the finger payment provider is hacked, and records are acquired by individuals with questionable motives? There’s definitely a need for strong encryption systems to accompany these technologies.
Furthermore, if biological samples are required during the registration process, then healthcare logistics need to be implemented for collection and disposal.
Potential accessibility issues
If these technologies ever become mainstream, one can expect legislators to force providers to provide alternative systems for those with disabilities (either lacking fingers, or not being able to use them). Of course, accessibility is a noble cause and a necessity. However, it forces companies currently involved in development to come up with a plan B early on.
Companies at the forefront of “finger payments”
UK-based Sthaler is the creator of FingoPay which uses vein recognition technology. It’s currently in the Visa Europe Collab incubator. Last summer, FingoPay was launched to the public at Proud, a bar in Camden, London, and other venues in Cork, Ireland.
Another company is Russia’s Sonda Technologies, the maker of Pay by Finger, which is based on advanced algorithmic recognition of patterns on the surface of one’s finger. The system has been implemented at an Azbuka Vkusa supermarket location in Moscow.
In my opinion, finger payment technologies are the ultimate wearable: it’s hard to beat the convenience and benefits they provide. The road ahead is long, but don’t be surprised if adoption picks up dramatically next year.