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Pilot program explores a ‘cashless society’

January 24, 2013

rapidcityjournal.com

This is not good news as there are a lot more cons than pros in this debate

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Aaron Rosenblatt, Rapid City Journal

Bernie Keeler, a mechanical engineering student at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, demonstrates how to buy an item using biometric payment Tuesday at the Miner’s Shack snack bar. Nexus USA is piloting the Smart Pay system on the Mines campus.

School of Mines students and all of Rapid City could soon be at the cutting edge of a technology that developers say will eliminate the need for cash, IDs and maybe even car keys.

“We’re hoping that this is the future,” Al Maas, president of Nexus USA, said Tuesday at a news conference at Mines. “The applications for this are beyond your imagination.”

On Tuesday, mechanical engineering student Bernie Keeler showed just how easily the system works. After grabbing a Gatorade and a sandwich at the Miner’s Shack, he paid by swiping his index finger through an electronic device the size of a credit card machine.

“You don’t have to carry anything around with you but your finger,” he said. “It’s super convenient.”

Keeler is one of 50 South Dakota School of Mines & Technology students and four faculty members who are testing the system on campus as part of a pilot program of the Nexus Smart Pay system, which promoters believe could revolutionize the way the world does business and lead to a cashless society.

Convenience is just one advantage of the system, which uses a patented technology called Biocryptology to scan 60 points seven layers deep into the skin. The scan is then encrypted into a series of valueless numbers — different each time the finger is swiped — and sent to a database that confirms the user’s identity. Once identity is confirmed, the person can access money in an account the same way an ATM card allows a user to withdraw cash at a bank.

With the Nexus system, there is no need to remember passwords or PIN numbers. Users merely enter their birth date into the electronic device, which helps speed the identification process, and swipe a finger.

Developers say the technology could also be used for access and identification, making lost car keys and fake IDs a thing of the past.

Maas, a former Central High School teacher, learned about Nexus last spring while in Spain, where the company is based. Nexus is a subsidiary of Hanscan Identity Management, a company owned by entrepreneur and oil tycoon Klaas Zwart, who’s also a Formula 1 racing enthusiast with his own racing resort in Spain.

Zwart is interested in creating a cashless society. He had been looking for a place to test the Smart Pay technology, and Maas knew just the place.

“What better fit than a technology university?” Maas asked, adding that Mines has been extremely supportive of the project. “It’s just been fantastic.”

“We’re very excited about the partnership that we have with Nexus,” said Duane Hrncir, Mines’ acting president.

Zwart visited Mines last fall and spent time with students on the Formula SAE Hardrocker Racing team. Many of those students are now taking part in the pilot program.

“That connection … (with Klaas is) why they really wanted to do this,” said Kimberly Osberg, associate director of Mines’ Center for Excellence of Advanced Manufacturing and Production team.

Cat Malin, a mechanical engineering student from Hudson, Wis., is part of the pilot group. She admits the thought of having personal information connected with a finger swipe was “freaky” at first.

“But a lot of us have taken the math classes to understand how it works,” she said. “The way that this information is stored, it seems a lot less likely to be hacked.”

The swiping devices do not store data, for one thing. Also, in scanning the finger they check for hemoglobin to confirm the subject is alive.

“You can’t cut somebody’s finger off and stick it in there,” said Kent Simon, vice president for Nexus USA.

Maas said each consumer could opt for additional security measures, such as setting up a “decoy finger” that, if scanned, would alert authorities that the user is not acting under his own free will and limit the amount of money released.

Children could be added to parents’ accounts, with pre-determined spending limits. After each transaction Nexus sends an e-mail to the account holder telling how much money was withdrawn, where and what the account balance is.

“It’s a little ‘Big Brother’ish,” Maas said. “But those controls you can choose or not choose.”

The pilot project has been a great fit for Mines. Students involved have already provided Nexus with feedback on ways to make the product better.

“I’m just excited to see that there’s this opportunity for the students to be involved here,” said Jennifer Benning, an assistant professor of environmental and civil engineering, noting that students are also learning about the business aspect of technology. “I just think it’s such a cool opportunity for them.”

The pilot program is slated to end in February. Mines officials will then review the program and determine whether they want to expand the system campus-wide.

From there, Nexus hopes to expand its Smart Pay system throughout Rapid City.

“It could be put in immediately, depending on who wants to accept it,” said Maas, adding that he’s already talked with a local bar owner who’s interested in the system. “I’d love to make this the very first biometric city in the world.”

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