There are currently approximately 17 billion bank cards in circulation, helping move unimaginable amounts of funds around the world every day without requiring customers to do anything more than a simple swipe or tap of a payment terminal.
However, to a much smaller number of users, the idea of tapping a bank card or phone to pay for a product sounds hopelessly outdated and tedious.
For these people – currently around 600 and counting – payments are as quick and easy as a hand wave, Jedi mind trick style. And all it takes is a willingness to have a subdermal payment implant about 28mm long in her body.
Welcome to the (possible) future of payments – created by a Polish startup called Walletmor.
“We designed and manufactured the world’s first payment implants that are accepted globally,” Wojtek Paprota, Walletmor’s founder and CEO, told Digital Trends. “It’s an open payment implant that you can use to buy a drink in New York, a haircut in Paris, or Pad Thai in Bangkok. It’s an amazing device.”
Cyborg style payments
Paprota, a startup entrepreneur with a background in wealth management and finance, came up with the concept for Walletmor a few years ago. While reading the Polish sci-fi novel Internet ludzi: Organizacja jutra (Internet of People: Organization of Tomorrow), he noticed a harmless scene in which a character used an embedded smart chip to open a door.
“I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is incredible,'” he said. “Something like this already exists on the market, but I’ve never seen it when paying.”
As Paprota notes, the idea of having a device not much larger than a grain of rice implanted in the body is not entirely without precedent. In 1998 Kevin Warwick, a professor in the Department of Cybernetics at Britain’s University of Reading, made headlines when he decided to have a silicon chip in a glass tube implanted under the skin of his left arm.
The implant was connected to a central computer that allowed Warwick to open doors and turn on lights simply by walking through his lab. At the time, Warwick reported that he quickly felt “as if the implant was one with my body.”
Walletmor’s chip is different, Paprota explained, because it doesn’t focus on a “closed loop” but connects to an open standard: in this case, a payment platform. The fact that his company sells the chips, while not entirely unique, is a bit different than lab-based proof-of-concept demos.
Building a prototype
Not that there wasn’t a fair amount of experimentation along the way to this point. Once Paprota had his initial idea, he approached Amal Graafstra, a person who had worked in the field, to help him make the dream come true. Walletmor’s website describes Graafstra, now the company’s chief technology officer, as the “most respectable person in the smart implant space.” But Paprota still had his doubts.
“[Amal] said, ‘I can’t guarantee it will be successful because I’ve never done anything like this before,'” recalled Paprota. “I kept asking myself these questions: ‘What is the risk of infection?’ “What is the chance of success?” “What is the risk of failure?” What about a million others [questions]?’ Every response I got was, ‘I don’t know because I’ve never done this before.’”
Eventually, the prototype was ready and the company began marketing its Walletmor implant to customers. (Currently it’s only available in Europe, although it’s hoped this will eventually expand to the US as well.)
To use the device, customers must first order the €199 implant through the company’s website. Next, they need to open an appropriate iCard or in the UK a MuchBetter.com account to create a digital wallet that can be linked to the implant. They then link the implant to the account with a simple activation code, add money to the account to start spending, and finally pay a visit to the friendly neighborhood “medical aesthetics clinic” to install the chip under their skin to let.
The device works with Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, the same contactless payment system used in smartphones such as Apple Pay.
“Walletmor is only responsible for the hardware of the implants themselves; We build implants and deliver them to customers,” Paprota said. “When it comes to software and cybersecurity [side of the coin]it’s the companies we work with and the systems we use.”
The future of payments?
So is this the next step in payments as we know them? Paprota seems confident in his vision of a cyborg future for consumer payments. For now, however, he admits there are some bottlenecks. For one, the device is still “relatively expensive” compared to over-the-counter bank cards, which have the added benefit of not having to be physically inserted into the body.
The implants also don’t do much that other payment options can’t. There’s no major pain point it solves – with the possible exception that you’re less likely to accidentally leave your subdermal chip at home, and probably less likely to be stolen by thieves when you go out.
In the medium term, however, Paprota makes an interesting point as to why banks might actually be interested in adopting this. “When you have an implant in your hand, it becomes your preferred payment method of choice,” he explained. “That’s a big advantage for the banks because if you have, say, 10 [payment] Cards in your wallet, the banks are competing for your choice. Whoever is chosen wins – and let’s not forget that banks make money from the transactions when we use their cards.”
Realistically, however, it will take more than saving donors seconds on a payment for the majority of people to willingly undergo elective surgery – no matter how small – to become one with their bank. This is where the future bit comes into play.
“We plan to introduce multiple applications for our implant to create an ecosystem,” Paprota said. “Then it’s not just a payment implant, it’s a way to manage our digital and physical identity. Aside from paying, you can use these… at the airport for your passport or to present a medical certificate, e.g. B. a COVID passport. If you have an accident, this could be installed in your body to ensure that the first responder can get the essential data to provide you with the appropriate first aid. The more applications and functions you get in an implant, the more attractive it becomes for customers. Think of it as an aggregator of our identity.”
Whether that happens remains to be seen. Paprota may refer to the world’s first payment implants as “globally accepted,” but your mileage for “accepted” may vary. However, Paprota is under no illusions. He knows, to paraphrase organizational theorist Geoffrey Moore, that this type of technology has a lot of chasms to cross before it can be widely accepted. He simply has faith in the public’s proverbial ability to jump over chasms.
“I believe the most important challenge we are facing right now is the societal acceptance of this device,” he said. “Societal acceptance and the wave of skepticism are coming from older generations who are not so keen on change. But if you look at this [history of] Personal computers and the Internet, it was also developed and strongly supported by the younger generations. It didn’t take a year or two, but at least 10 years to fully commercialize it – [and you still] see some older people who don’t have a PC and don’t use it. I believe that will also be the case with implants. But I am fully committed to this and I am willing to work on this project for the next 30 years.”
Coming soon(ish) to an arm near you.