New Times,
New Thinking.

14 April 2014updated 09 Jun 2021 8:41am

Swedish students can use palm scanners instead of credit cards to pay for meals

A Swedish university has installed a system that relies on the unique structure of everyone's hands as a new way of letting people purchase food on campus.

By Ian Steadman

And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads; and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. –Revelation 13:15-16 

At Lund University in Sweden, campus shops and restaurants now have an alternative method of payment for students – their hands. A scanner next to the till matches a palmprint up to a database, to verify payment. You can see it in action in the video above, if you want.

The reason it works, according to engineering student Fredrik Leifland, is that the pattern of veins inside the hand is unique to each person, just like a fingerprint. Purchases appear on each customer’s online account, with a direct debit clearing their debts twice a month. Signing up to the service is possibly slightly more complicated than applying for a credit card – you visit a store, scan your palm three times on a terminal, and enter in your phone number and social security number, before getting a text with an activation code that needs to be entered online.

Startup Quixter, which installed the terminals, wants to expand the system beyond Lund’s campus eventually, but for now it’s more of a proof-of-concept, with around 1,600 registered users in 15 locations. From the video, it’s pretty obvious why palm-scanning might appeal – it’s fast, and you can’t lose your hand (well, in the same sense as losing one’s wallet, that is). You also don’t have to faff around with getting a contactless payment credit or debit card out of your wallet, and knowing humanity there are probably people out there who found that kind of thing annoying. It also helps if you’ve left the house without any cash or wallet and then subsequently find you need to buy something (imagine how useful this would be at a beach, for example).

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Then again, biometric verification is a bit of an odd one. Back when Apple announced that it was going to include a fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 5S, there were a fair few people pointing out that it’s not always a great thing – after all, you can change a stolen password, but you can’t change a stolen fingerprint. That said, the extra security from having a fingerprint scanner and a password is better than either just a fingerprint or just a password, so to that end the students of Lund have to put in the last four digits of their phone number as well as have their palm scanned to pay for something.

This isn’t a new idea, incidentally. Schools in the US have a similar system for their pupils buying lunch from the cafeteria, because they already have internal credit allowances for meals and it speeds up service time for meals. In the god-fearing parts of the Deep South, though, you get parents who are adamant that their kids won’t partake in any shenanigans like this, because “paying with a palm scan” sounds a bit like the “mark of the beast” from Revelation. Seriously:

While the letter notes that parents can opt their children out of the program, parent Mamie Sonnier told KPLC-TV that she was angry and disappointed by the program, as the scanner violates her beliefs. She contends that if the scanners actually make it to the school cafeteria, she’ll be transferring her kids to another school.

“As a Christian, I’ve read the Bible, you know go to church and stuff,” Sonnier said. “I know where it’s going to end up coming to, the mark of the beast. I’m not going to let my kids have that.” 

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