Saturday, November 03, 2007

Pay at the Pump...with a Pinky?

The coolest technological advancement that I've seen so far this week would have to be the devices that are being tested at a number of Shell stations in the Chicago area: Pay at the pump by touch:
Chicago drivers have a new way to pay for gasoline: with their fingertips.

Ten Shell gas stations in the Windy City are testing biometric systems that let consumers walk up to the pump, scan their fingertips on a device and fill up their vehicles. The systems, also installed at Shell convenience stores, are directly linked to customers' checking or credit-card accounts for payment.

"When we talk to customers, they're always looking for ways to make buying gasoline quicker and easier, and always looking for ways to make their transactions faster and more secure," said Chris Susse, Shell's manager of global refueling innovations. "They don't want to carry more cards, kits and keychains, and they want it to be free."

Customers will be able to initially scan their fingerprints at a kiosk inside the gas station and can link payment information either at the store or online.
Count me in as one of those who doesn't need anymore cards in his wallet. There's also no way that you'll never see me using those keytag things; besides not having any room on my key ring to begin with, there's always the possibility that losing your keys could also mean losing personal information if the company that issued the tags wasn't careful enough. So this seems like a cool idea, and I'm glad to see that the company leading the way is the same one from which my dad is retired (and is thus somewhat responsible for putting me through college).

I've always liked these modern conveniences that require carrying less cash, and the touch-to-pay idea seems to be pretty foolproof and secure. I related this story to a few friends when it came out a few days ago, and we were joking that, yes, someone could possibly mug a gas customer and make him/her put a finger up against the device, but we concluded that this was highly unlikely.

Granted, there will always be people who are unnerved by something like this:
Sunflower Market, a Chicago grocery store, also has Pay By Touch systems installed. About 2 percent of its customers signed up for the payment option, said the store's manager, Debbie Britton.

"I think it scares people," Britton said. "They're more confused about the whole system. Some of them say, 'Well, now the FBI can find me.'"
If they're really concerned about the FBI finding them, they may have more problems than paying for gas. And as long as the system refuses to share personal information with third parties--as the Pay By Touch system has promised not to do--the system should be more secure than other forms of payment. After all (detective movies aside), you can't steal a fingerprint.

Would you use a device like this?

Another cool technological innovation: A 9-year-old Iowa boy has invented a device that raises and lowers a toilet seat in a manner similar to that of a step-on wastebasket. (Key quote, from the young inventor, Jake Wulf: "My mom was getting mad at me for forgetting to put the toilet seat down and she was falling in." Well, yeah, but ya know, could've looked first, right?)

And a scary innovation: Getting one's ears surgically altered to look like Mr. Spock's. Supposedly, it enhances the music listening experience, but --desirable as that would be--it wouldn't be worth it if I had to become a faux Vulcan in the process.

OK, one more cool one: Aerosol Pancakes (which, as Dave Barry would say, would be a good name for a rock band).

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