Vending Machines Take Finger Scans Instead of Cash

The day has arrived where all the money in the world is at your finger tips. Or rather, all the money in your credit card is in your finger veins. Biometric scanners are popping up everywhere, and now Hitachi has debuted the first vending machine that will accept a finger scan instead of cash or coins. By linking the scan to a credit card account, customers can simply place their finger in the machine and purchase whichever snack goods they desire most. It’s probably the best reward you’ll ever get for giving a vending machine the finger.

Finger goes in, Coke comes out. Easy, huh?
Finger goes in, Coke comes out. Easy, huh?

The biometric sensor in Hitachi’s new vending machine uses light to scan and read the number and orientation of veins in your finger tip without directly touching a sensor. This provides a unique code for access to a credit card account that has to be established independently of the vending machine. While the machine is only a prototype, and Hitachi hasn’t yet decided whether or not to make a commercial version, the concept itself is more than enough to be causing a buzz. It’s far from the first use of a biometric sensor, but it has the potential to be the most commonly seen application of the technology.

Even if the vending machine industry doesn’t jump on Hitachi’s band wagon, the biometric sales option is ready to be explored. With credit card companies like Visa and Mastercard already providing a “tap and pay” system for cards, consumers may become more confident with payments that don’t require signatures or even human-human interaction. This means that finger scans could very well become a break-out technology. If you’re willing to tap a card, why not just point your finger instead?

Hollywood movies often portray biometrics as added levels of security for very expensive items or collections. Eye scans to enter bank vaults spring readily to mind. The speed of biometric verification, however, makes it just as sensible to go in the other direction. Need to pay $5? Just let the machine count the veins in your index finger. It’s faster than reaching for your wallet. Which may or may not be a good thing. It’s unclear if the hassle of paying for things has a profound affect on the way we spend money. There may be a lot more impulse purchases when you can pay for things by just tapping your finger.

Amazingly, this isn’t the only way that vending machines are getting complex. There are vendors with LCD display and touch screens, and others with conveyor belts or claws instead of those twisting springs. I think that they serve as a good testing ground for emerging commercial technologies. After all, like new high-tech ATMs, they are one of the few public machines that interact with hundreds or thousands of people each day.

With biometrics looking to identify you through your ear, or even your brain, the finger vein technology from Hitachi seems like a more acceptable option. It will be interesting to see if the concept of linking credit cards to a biometric scanner becomes widely popular. Perhaps it will be adopted somewhere else. iTunes? Kindles? Pay toilets?

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