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Cash Cards: Tell Your Pc To Fill `Er Up

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CAN YOUR COMPUTER DOUBLE as an automated teller machine (ATM)--giving you access to cash whenever you need it? Well, sort of. The first step is widespread acceptance of "smart cards" such as the ones announced on Apr. 17 by Visa International and MasterCard International Inc. These "stored value" cards can hold electronic "cash" that is transferred over a network from a holder's account. Smart-card holders can then use the cash cards to pay for items at participating vendors equipped with smart-card readers.

Later this year, Visa and MasterCard will distribute 50,000 cards to New Yorkers, who will be able to start downloading "cash" onto a smart card from specially equipped ATMs.

SCM Microsystems, a maker of PC add-in cards in Los Gatos, Calif., is ready to take the system to the next step: letting you "refill" your cash card using your personal computer. SCM has announced SwapSmart, a $199 smart-card reader that fits in a PC Card (formerly known as PCMCIA) slot, the same slots found on almost every laptop for attaching peripherals such as modems. The idea, says Nicholas Efthymiou, SCM's vice-president for sales and marketing, is that such a device will let consumers with an appropriate home-banking connection transfer money from their bank accounts to the smart card using a home PC equipped with a SwapSmart reader. In the meantime, SCM is working to develop other applications, such as smart-card-based security systems.EDITED BY PAUL M. ENGReturn to top


TECHNOLOGY HAS A WAY of shrinking things, but the human hand isn't getting any smaller. How to let those big digits work with tiny computers? David Levy, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology grad student, has invented a miniature keypad that squeezes the alphabet and 10 numbers, plus a few other functions, onto an area the size of a credit card. Each domed key on Levy's device is half the size of a regular key. But the real ingenuity is placing the numbers at the spot where the corners of four keys meet. By depressing all four keys at once, that number is keyed in.

Levy has a patent pending on the keypad, which won this year's Lemelson prize for the best invention by an MIT student. The prize bestows $30,000, but Levy may see an even larger return from Corporate America. Greg Blonder, director of research at AT&T, says the telecom giant has taken a look at the keypad for next-generation cellular phones and other handheld electronic devices.EDITED BY PAUL M. ENG By Paul JudgeReturn to top


DON'T BELIEVE IT WHEN FRIENDS TELL YOU THEY bought a multimedia PC to help the kids with their schoolwork. According to market researcher Link Resources Inc., 75% of all home PCs are used to play games. Logitech Inc., the Fremont (Calif.) maker of computer mice and other pointing devices, is hoping to cash in on the home-PC game craze.

On May 16, at the game-industry's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, it plans to unveil what it calls the ultimate in joysticks. The $99 Wingman Warrior is designed specifically for hot 3-D computer games such as Id Software's popular Doom. In those first-person-perspective games, players often have to master difficult keystrokes to change the viewpoint while using a joystick to control movement. Wingman Warrior's so-called SpinControl knob makes it easier to play those games by mimicking natural head-turning: Turn the knob left, and the viewpoint changes as if the player had turned his or her head to look left.EDITED BY PAUL M. ENGReturn to top

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