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The next wave of applications is bound to bring more creative ideas, says Ted Selker, who heads the MIT Media Lab’s context-aware computing group. His experiments have included putting chips in clothing, furniture, and other everyday items. Selker foresees a day when airport shops will target smart-card holders in the vicinity with wireless transmissions that promote discounts on everything from T-shirts to books and backpacks. Another possibility: as a customer approaches a rack of clothing in a store, wireless readers in the clothes hangers glean his size information from the smart card in his wallet, causing lights on the hangers of outfits that are his size to flash. Selker says the goal isn’t so much to wow as to figure out “how do you add functions that can simplify people’s lives?”

In the meantime, payment devices will assuredly proliferate-to the point that the average person might carry four or five variations of smart cards. No single technology will likely dominate; rather, radio tags, chip buttons, and smart cards will catch on wherever their qualities are best suited. A person might have an iButton for secure access to her apartment building, a Speedpass to buy gasoline and convenience store items, a smart card for riding the subway and storing tickets to events around town, a multiapplication card for corporate access and health-care data, and even a cell phone with a smart chip that can transfer money to the phone of a friend.

Just don’t be too surprised to find that your digital fingerprints are floating through the air along with your money. As the payment technologies take off, you’ll be able to do just about anything with your smart card or Speedpass or iButton. And then you’ll be asking whether you can do anything without them.

(New York, NY)

Customer loyalty
program at Target Stores

Personal-identification data; programs that formulate special offers, discounts, and loyalty certificates Device talks to reader
Swiped through a checkout counter reader, a card’s embedded microprocessor communicates via its gold-plated contact pad.

Transactions are authorized via data lines, and purchasing information used to formulate loyalty offers is uploaded to the store’s database.

(Gemenos, France)
ExxonMobil Speedpass Network
(Fairfax, VA)
McDonald’s drive-through service Customer’s identification code A radio transmitter inside the McDonald’s order box signals
a nearby Speedpass transponder to emit its unique identification code. The unique code and purchase amount are sent over the standard credit-card authorization network. Dallas
(Dallas, TX)
Canadian vending machines Digital-cash accounts When an iButton is touched to a vending machine’s receptor, the sale is debited from the chip’s memory. The self-contained system does not communicate with any network.

Segway starter key

Vehicle identification data and codes for controlling top speed and steering sensitivity Touching the Segway key to the receptor on the handlebar identifies the driver and adjusts the vehicle’s settings. The self-contained system does not communicate with any network.

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