Forget Credit Cards - Swipe Your Finger Instead
Business + Economy

Forget Credit Cards - Swipe Your Finger Instead


If you’ve ever wanted to pay for groceries with the touch of a finger, look no further than the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Two locations – a coffee shop and convenience store – on the school’s campus recently began testing fingerprint purchasing technology that allows students to buy goods with their fingerprint. The technology is called Biocryptology, and not only does it identify a person’s unique fingerprint, but detects levels of hemoglobin, or the oxygen in red blood cells, to make sure the person has a pulse. Thus, criminals looking to fool the system with severed fingers will be unsuccessful (yes, the developers thought of that).

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Fifty students and four faculty members have enrolled by providing their bank information, name, birth date, address, student ID, and of course, scanned fingerprints.

Though fingerprint technology isn’t new, this is one of the world’s first experiments using the extra security measure of hemoglobin detection. A more basic version of fingerprint purchase technology was introduced back in 2005 by a San Francisco-based company called Pay By Touch. Headed by John P. Rogers, he raised a whopping $340 million in venture capital for the company, signed deals with Albertson’s and Piggly Wiggly supermarket chains, hired more than 750 employees, and vowed to “change the way the world pays.”

But in 2007, the company suddenly went bankrupt. Rogers, it turned out, had a shady past – restraining orders and arrests, drug use, past business failures, and investors claimed he mismanaged the company’s finances and drove it the ground. In 2007 alone, the company lost $137 million.

Though the company went under, proponents insist it wasn’t the idea that failed. "If this company had been managed properly, it could have replaced major credit-card companies," Dodd Hyer, one of Pay by Touch’s investors, told the Start Tribune. "Someone, somewhere will do exactly that." 

Today, that person may be Klaas Zwart, the owner of Spanish company Hanscan Identity Management who developed the technology being used in South Dakota. His colleague Al Maas patented the technology in the U.S. and launched Nexus USA, a subsidiary of Hanscan.

After the initial 60-day test, Maas plans to expand the service to rest of the campus, and then to the larger Rapid City community, hoping the town will become the first fully-biometric city in the world where residents and visitors won’t need to carry credit cards or cash. Maas asserts that the technology is highly secure and hacker-proof, as each finger scan produces a unique series of numbers that cannot be replicated, and will guard against identity theft in the future. “This could [prevent] any fraud ever again, and nobody has to lose their identity,” Maas said in a promotional video, “or their finger.”

Once people see that it works, says Maas, he sees major credit card companies signing on, and anticipates uses beyond paying for goods and services – including gaining access into buildings and cars. “We could have an ‘empty-pocket’ society, where you don’t have to carry your keys, cash, credit cards, nothing. You just have to use one finger.”