Smart Cards That Let You Pay Your Fare In A Flash

Racom Systems Inc. of Boulder, Colo., has a new kind of "smart card." It's designed to speed large volumes of people through ski lifts, mass-transit systems, and other situations where simple financial transactions must be performed quickly by people on the move. Unlike other such cards, data stored in Racom Systems' In-Charge card can be read and updated without actually putting it in contact with a card reader. Instead, the card has to come within six inches of a reader and a payment is recorded in about 0.15 seconds.

How does it work? Inside the card is something called a ferroelectric memory chip that can store up to 256 bits of data--representing a sum of money, for instance--for years. When the card is placed near a reader, radio waves stimulate the chip to transmit its contents. In a flash, a computer calculates the appropriate debit and sends the new sum back to update the card's memory.

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