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.

Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas
footballChelsea vs West Ham live kicks off coverage of all 10 of Boxing Day matches
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
i100
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

    Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

    Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

    £70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all