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New microchip implant allows people to pay using their hands

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If you believe e-wallets and bank cards are the pinnacles of smooth payments, you may be surprised. People may now pay for products with just their hands thanks to a new microchip implant.

Walletmor, a technological startup, is chipping individuals to make speedier and contactless payments via near-field communication, or NFC. Last year, the British-Polish company became the first to sell implanted payment chips.

An x-ray shows a Walletmor implant, which is injected into a person’s hand after a local anesthetic. Photo: BBC

The chip is slightly larger than a grain of rice and weighs less than a gram. A small microcontroller and an antenna encased in biopolymer—a substance comparable to plastic—are among the gadgets.

Patrick Paumen, a 37-year-old security guard from the Netherlands doesn’t need to use a bank card or his mobile phone to pay. Instead, he simply places his left hand near the contactless card reader, and the payment goes through, according to BBC.

“The reactions I get from cashiers are priceless!” he said.

He is able to pay using his hand because back in 2019 he had a contactless payment microchip injected under his skin. Though, during the procedure, he said that it “hurts as much as when someone pinches your skin.”

“The implant can be used to pay for a drink on the beach in Rio, a coffee in New York, a haircut in Paris – or at your local grocery store,” says founder and chief executive Wojtek Paprota. “It can be used wherever contactless payments are accepted.”

Mr. Paprota goes on to say that it is completely safe, has regulatory approval, works immediately after being implanted, and will remain securely in place. It also does not require a battery or any other form of power. The company claims to have sold over 500 of the chips.

Walletmor employs near-field communication, or NFC, the contactless payment method used in smartphones. Other payment implants rely on radio-frequency identification (RFID), the same technology present in actual contactless debit and credit cards.

Patrick Paumen has a chip under the skin of his left hand, and it lights up when it comes into close contact with a payment machine. Photo: BBC

However, without giving a percentage figure, the report added that “invasiveness and security issues remained a major concern” for respondents.  A UK-EU survey from 2021 of 4,000 people found that 51% of people would consider getting implanted if it brought ease across different fronts.

Mr. Paumen says he doesn’t have any of these worries.

“Chip implants contain the same kind of technology that people use on a daily basis,” he says, “From key fobs to unlock doors, public transit cards like the London Oyster card, or bank cards with contactless payment function.

“The reading distance is limited by the small antenna coil inside the implant. The implant needs to be within the electromagnetic field of a compatible RFID [or NFC] reader. Only when there is a magnetic coupling between the reader and the transponder can the implant can be read.”

He adds that he is not concerned that his whereabouts could be tracked.

“RFID chips are used in pets to identify them when they’re lost,” he says. “But it’s not possible to locate them using an RFID chip implant – the missing pet needs to be found physically. Then the entire body gets scanned until the RFID chip implant is found and read.”

Analysts, however, worry that such tech could become so advanced over the next few years that it may be packed with an individual’s private information – including their whereabouts. So would this information remain secure? We don’t know yet.

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