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Pay for Coffee Using Only the Palm of Your Hand

A new company uses palm scanners that identify each customer's vein pattern.
Vein recognition technology allows customers to pay by scanning their palms. (Image credit: Lund University)

Waiting in a long line at the supermarket while the person at the register rummages for cash can try anyone's patience.

Inspired by such an incident, Fredrik Leifland, a student at Lund University in Sweden, thought of a way to speed up the payment process, and created Quixter — a company that uses vein recognition technology to let customers make purchases using only the palms of their hands

Biometric identification, or programing a computer to identify someone based on human characteristics, is not a new concept. Vein scanning technology, specifically, has existed for several years, and customers in Japan already use it as a quick way to withdraw cash from an ATM. However, this is the first time vein scanning has been adapted as a payment method. [Bionic Humans: Top 10 Technologies]

Just as each person has characteristic fingerprints or body odor, everyone has a unique arrangement of veins unlike anyone else's. The scanner uses infrared light that illuminates the blood flow through each person's hand, and identifies the vein pattern.

The transaction itself is quick and simple, but it takes several steps to set up the system. First, banks must register with Quixter, and then individual customers have to sign up to link their palm scans and banking information. Restaurants and stores that want to use the new method then have to install the palm scanners.

The level of cooperation required from several different parties means the technology probably won't roll out to a mass market soon. But unlike paying with a credit card, Quixter comes with security advantages, Leifland said.

"Every individual's vein pattern is completely unique, so there really is no way of committing fraud with this system," Leifland said in a statement. "You always need your hand scanned for a payment to go through."

Quixter's FAQ section on its website assures customers that even chopping off someone's hand would not help anyone commit fraud, since the system identifies each palm based on the blood pumping through the veins.

The system could operate as a one-step transaction, but the method currently requires customers to enter the last four digits of their phone numbers before scanning their palms. This gives the customer a chance to look at the transaction amount and make sure it's correct, the company said.

Fifteen stores and restaurants around the Lund University campus are now using the payment system, which now has about 1,600 active users, company representatives said. Despite the challenges of setting up the payment method, Leifland plans to continue expanding Quixter.

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Kelly Dickerson
Kelly Dickerson
Kelly Dickerson is a staff writer for Live Science and She regularly writes about physics, astronomy and environmental issues, as well as general science topics. Kelly is working on a Master of Arts degree at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, and has a Bachelor of Science degree and Bachelor of Arts degree from Berry College. Kelly was a competitive swimmer for 13 years, and dabbles in skimboarding and long-distance running.