A tech startup offers an NFC payment implant
Walletmor has developed a near-field communication tag that can be embedded in a user’s hand to enable credit card payments, while the long-term plan is to release a similar solution for a full digital wallet, with an integrated NFC tag for multiple payment sources, access control and medical records.
May 11, 2022A UK and Poland-based tech startup sells a Near Field Communication (NFC) solution that can be embedded under the skin of consumers’ hands, enabling payments without the need for an outside card, wallet or a cell phone. Walletmor (a mix of the words “wallet” and “tomorrow”) sold several hundred chips, which individuals embedded in order to pay for their wares. In the United States, Walletmor partners with contactless payment company Purewrist, which provides accounts that users can link to their chips.
The technology comes with some key limitations, Walletmor reports. The tag acts as a static payment system, so it can be tied to a specific credit card that comes with an expiration date and cannot be updated. So once the card expires, the embedded tag also expires, which means a user would have to have it surgically removed or replaced. The company, however, is planning a next-generation solution that would go beyond providing a single payment source.
Walletmor envisions a digital wallet-like app and solution, similar to that offered by Apple Pay and Google Pay, that could store all the keys, credentials and information typically carried in a wallet, on a chip embedded in a hand. Until then, those using the first-generation chip can download an app from Purewrist to get an account through Sutton Bank. They can enter an activation code, link their bank card to the rice-grain-sized tag, and arrange implantation with a doctor. Similar technologies have been developed and used on a limited scale (see Wisconsin Company Plans NFC Chip Implant Party and Digital Angel Developing an Implantable Glucose-Sensing RFID Tag).
The idea for Walletmor came from a novel that Wojtek Paprota, co-founder and president of the company, was reading, in which a character used a chip in his hand to enter an office. Paprota has a background in finance and wanted to develop a similar solution that would literally put payment transactions in the hands of consumers. “I was like, ‘OK, payments are the way to go,'” he recalls. “I was contacting several people and companies around the world to see if there was [were] anything that sells that kind of device.” He couldn’t find one, he said, “So I thought, ‘OK, let’s build one.'”
Adhere to payment standards protocol
Paprota met with an engineer, who tested a system with Paprota’s own credit card information encoded on a chip built and modified to meet the contactless payment performance requirements of EuroPay, MasterCard and Visa when integrated into his hand. The result is a biopolymer coated tag, slightly larger than a grain of rice, with an embedded NXP P71 NFC chip, compliant with ISO 14443. After 11 months of engineering, Paprota has embedded the first implant in its hand , then began using the chip to make payments. In November 2020, the company completed a new biopolymer implant that underwent international ISO testing.
Paprota now has three implants in her hand, one under the skin on the back of her wrist and the other two on the back of her hand, with small scars at the injection sites. Tag placement considered comfort and efficient transmission, as the chip needed to be relatively close to the skin’s surface to transmit properly. While some NFC chips have been embedded in the strap between a person’s index finger and thumb, the chip in the Walletmor solution is slightly too large for this position.
Processing payments requires the transmission of more than just the unique identification number encoded on the label – it also requires data based on security and encryption, as well as the user’s credit card number. As such, a larger chip was needed to be able to store more data. The tag also includes an antenna designed by Walletmor to ensure efficient transmission through the body. When designing the antenna, Paprota said, “We just needed to adjust the antenna parameters so that the RF waves were still readable by the [payment] Terminal.”
Since the implant has no impact on the health or medical condition of the user, it is not classified as a medical device and therefore does not require the testing and approval that would be required with a such classification. Despite this fact, Paprota notes, Walletmor conducted considerable testing to prove the security of the chip and its polymer casing. “It’s a hell of a risk that you put something inside your body,” he says, “so you have to prove that it’s, of course, super safe.” The company has conducted the same studies and laboratory tests that apply to medical devices, he adds, to ensure biocompatibility and avoid toxicity and irritation.
The tag is available for sale on Walletmor’s website, although limitations on credit card expiration may affect most consumers’ willingness to go through the process of integrating a technology under their skin. “It’s one of the biggest hurdles we’re facing right now,” Paprota acknowledges. Customers become discouraged when they learn that the chip has the same lifespan as the credit card, which means that the implanted chip would have to be surgically replaced every three to five years.
A future wallet with tokenized data
Walletmor is designing a version that might have the smarts to store more of these accounts. “We want to create an app that works more or less like ApplePay,” Paprota says, “similar to an iPhone.” Since iPhones don’t expire, he adds, users can simply add or edit the account information they upload to their wallet.
Designing a device capable of storing a variety of payment methods and other information could be done relatively easily, Paprota says, although he expects partnering with the various banking providers and other bodies that provide the stored data will prove more difficult. “We as a company are not a bank,” he says. “We are not considering becoming a bank.” Instead, Walletmor wants to provide certified devices to store tokens or cryptographic keys for payment cards. He sees the company’s efforts as a way to convert wearables into implants.
Walletmor is also considering a solution that would go far beyond financial transactions. “When you think of your wallet,” Paprota says, “the first thing that probably comes to mind is money. But besides that, we also keep things like business cards, sometimes personal documents. , access cards and keys. [something] like a picture of your daughter or your husband. He expects the implant to provide access to all of this data. Information could be stored with their own security settings, and the chip could be interrogated with the NFC reader built into smartphones.
Paprota calls this the “ultimate level of security and the ultimate level of convenience”. He attributes the security aspect to the fact that the chip cannot be misplaced or stolen, and because encryption and passwords could be configured for individual data tokens. “Imagine going to the dentist, for example, and wanting to share with the dentist the history of treatments performed on your teeth,” he says. “It’s something he or she needs to know,” while other data could remain secure. “You certainly wouldn’t want to share the amount of money you have in your account. I think implants should be seen as an information aggregator and a profile aggregator in multiple systems.
Currently, the chip is priced at €200 (or $300 in the US). This does not cover the cost of implementation, which Walletmor does not provide. If the chip can be made small enough in the future, Paprota says, the company expects it can be more easily implanted, perhaps even with an injector in the user’s home.
- The first version of the product combines an implanted chip with a single expiring credit card.
- The long-term plans are for an app where users would store data about their implant, ranging from payment data and keys to family photos, business cards and medical records.
Exhibitors at LIVE RFID Diary! 2022 will offer NFC-based payment solutions. To learn more, visit the event website.