The uniqueness of a fingerprint has helped keep thumb drive files, computer systems and wallet contents safe from intruders for a good while now. Now, a team from Carnegie Mellon is breaking fingerprint recognition technology into new ground with the development of a secure payment system named PayTango, that uses a fingerprint scanner to identify shoppers and pay for items.
Developed during the first Tech Startup Lab course at Carnegie's School of Computer Science in the latter half of 2012, with assistant professor Luis von Ahn (who is also responsible for reCAPTCHA and Duolingo) at the helm, PayTango was designed to consolidate the various bank, credit, loyalty, student/business ID or gift cards into one easy payment method.
By February of this year, seniors Christian Reyes (Information Systems and Human-Computer Interaction major), Brian Groudan (Information Systems and Human-Computer Interaction alumnus), Kelly Lau-Kee (Industrial Design and Human-Computer Interaction major), and Umang Patel (Information Systems major) had assembled the first prototype and were ready for a live run.
That limited pilot test was undertaken in collaboration with the university's Dining Services on one campus, with the 100 slots snapped up in a matter of hours. After gathering user feedback, the fingerprint-based identification and payment system was tweaked and expanded to three campus dining locations.
Signing up to the system is said to take just 20 seconds and involves touching the biometric scanner with an index and middle finger, swiping a credit card through a reader to associate it with your fingerprint data, and then punching in your cellphone number to set up an account (the latter is used by system admin as a means of contact). Any card with a magnetic strip can be registered with PayTango, and the blurb in the terms states that PayTango employs "industry leading information security standards and safeguards, physical controls, and security procedures" to help keep your personal data safe.
Registered users need only place their fingers on the scanner to pay the bill at the vendor's point-of-sale terminal that's connected to the PayTango reader. The payment is then automatically taken from whatever service the user selected while signing up.
Enrollment has now been opened up to all Carnegie Mellon students who are signed up for a university meal plan or one of the flexible dollar programs and, at the moment, the service is free to use thanks to contracts with merchants.
Part of the university's Greenlighting Startups initiative, and backed by Mountain View's Y Combinator startup accelerator, the PayTango team has more Carnegie campuses in its sights for the near future. It's also hoped that the system will go on to launch on other college campuses, possibly replace membership cards in local gyms, and make its way into retail stores.
Watch Reyes provide an overview of the system and its development in the video below.