One card fits all

Motorola wants to replace all of the credit cards you are carrying with a single piece of plastic embedded with a microprocessor. Cliff Joseph reports

Motorola has set up a new division to develop the next generation of "combination" smart cards, which can be used to store large amounts of personal, medical and financial information about their users.

Cash cards and credit cards are the best known types of smart card currently in use. Supermarket loyalty cards and rail tickets also have some degree of smartness, as they can tell the issuers what you've bought and where you've been. In fact, just about every card in your wallet with one of those brown magnetic strips on it is a form of smart card.

Motorola's plan, though, is to develop a single card that will combine all these features and more. Instead of using magnetic strips to store information, the new card will contain miniature microprocessors to provide as much as 100 kilobytes of memory, and processing power equal to that of early home computers such as the Sinclair Spectrum.

This extra processing power means that the card can be programmed to perform a number of different tasks. Card holders will have their own swipe machines at home that will allow them to programme information into the card as required. Instead of having a wallet full of plastic cards, you could programme one combination card to act as a credit card, train pass, supermarket loyalty card, and whatever else you want it to do.

These new cards will also be "contactless". Instead of being passed through a swipe machine to make a transaction, the cards will use radio signals to communicate information across a distance of several feet.

"We believe the market is exploding," said Mark Davies, vice-president of Motorola's new Smartcard Systems division. "By 2001 there could be more smart cards in use than telephones."

That may be typical computer industry hyperbole, but there's no doubt that the use of smart cards is growing rapidly. In 1995 there were 540 million smart cards in use world-wide, and Davies estimates that this could rise to more than 3 billion by 2001.

The idea of storing so much personal information on a piece of plastic obviously raises concern about security, but Motorola has a hi-tech solution to this. "Biometrics will be an important security feature," Davies says. Biometrics uses electronic systems to recognise personal features such as thumb prints, voice patterns and even retina recognition. Motorola is investigating all three options, though it has made no final decisions on how to implement the systems.

Inevitably, these cards also raise issues of civil liberty and privacy. Davies argues that "ultimately it will be the individual who determines the boundaries of the smart card". He said he believes that using swipe machines in the home will allow users to control what information goes on to the card.

However, this assumes that the card holder will be the only person to decide what goes on to the card. The Spanish government is about to issue 35 million smart cards that will store citizens' social security numbers and details of any welfare benefits they receive. Combination cards would also be the ideal solution for politicians in this country who want to introduce compulsory ID cards.

Initial uses of the cards are likely to be much less controversial, though. The first of the new card systems is due for release at the end of this year, and Motorola's main discussions so far have been with banks and municipal transport companies in the US.

Personally, I'd be happy to swap the nine cards in my wallet for a single combination card. I'm just worried that I might try to programme my train pass into it, and find I'd ordered 500 cans of baked beans from Sainsbury's instead.

Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again say analysts

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

Life and Style
fashion

British supermodel and hitmaker join forces to launch a 'huge song'

News
news

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announce they are set to welcome second child in spring

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually a challenging and nuanced title

Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Sport
Fans of Palmeiras looks dejected during the match between Palmeiras and Santos
footballPalmeiras fan killed trying to 'ambush' bus full of opposition supporters
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Year 3 Teachers needed for supply roles

    £110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

    Year 1 Teachers needed for day to day roles

    £110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

    Year 2 Teachers needed for day to day roles

    £110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

    Primary General Cover Teachers needed

    £110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

    Day In a Page

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past