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One man’s quest to pay for lunch with a chip implanted in his thumb



By October, Meow-Ludo Meow Meow hopes to leave his wallet at home — maybe forever.

The near field communication (NFC) chip he has implanted in the back of his thumb could soon let him make contactless payments and potentially catch public transport.

Meow (he had his named changed years ago) is part of a movement of people who are blending their bodies with technology, or biohackers. In fact, the NFC chip is only one part of his dedication to living through experimentation and science. The founder of Biofoundry, a community lab in Sydney, Australia, is also running in the upcoming Australian election as a Science Party candidate.

The chip, which feels like a tiny, hard cylinder to the touch, was implanted in April at a piercing studio in Sydney. It wasn’t too painful, he told Mashable Australia, and his thumb was tender for only a short time after. 

“If you think about it like a cat or dog microchip, it’s quite quick and quite painless,” he said.

Leave the keys and wallet at home

The chip can only perform small tasks for the moment, but Meow has grander plans.

Currently, if he holds his thumb to the NFC reader on the back of his smartphone, it can detect the business card the chip is carrying. He can also reprogram the chip using a basic app. While we were together, he programmed it to disclose our location on Google Maps.

“It’s basically a little piece of memory that can do some fun stuff,” he said.

Working with with technologists Nathan Waters and Phill Ogden, Meow is working on a project to facilitate financial transactions through the chip with just a tap of his thumb on a store’s contactless payments reader. Think of it as a fintech startup merged with a biohacking experiment.

By October, the team is hoping to make the implant work with the Commonwealth Bank’s EFTPOS tablet, Albert, which is a common contactless payment system used in retail stores. To allow transactions to go through they’ll need to build a new app for Albert. The Commonwealth Bank has been contacted for comment. 

They’re also going to experiment with ways to integrate the chip with Opal, Sydney’s electronic public transport card.

Waters, who doesn’t currently have an implant himself, told Mashable Australia the technology to allow such transactions is ready now, but companies need to be on board. “The technology has been around for 10 or 12 years,” he said. “The only thing is having partnerships with the Commonwealth Bank and Opal to allow their backend to recognise it.”

If companies are open to it, the project could quickly evolve. “Ultimately, it would be great to have a business where people can book in for an implant, pair it with an app and throw away their wallet.”

For Meow, the end goal is to have the implant work with PayPass — MasterCard’s contactless payments system. This would allow Meow to use his thumb to pay at most retail stores across Australia, as PayPass is widely accepted. 

PayPass requires more memory, however — Meow’s NFC chip can hold only 868 bytes. He’d need to put a chip with larger capacity in another finger. “I’ll probably put it in the other thumb, and keep this one for hacking,” he said.

The potential of implants

When Meow first got the chip, he had no idea what he wanted to do with it. However, he quickly realised that it had two main capabilities: authentication and activation.

“The two biggest areas the chip could enable are authentication — I have a little bit of memory inside my thumb that can identify me uniquely — and also, [to] activate things,” he explained.

In the short term, such chips could eliminate some of the mundane paraphernalia of daily life. “Your keys and wallet — those two things can be entirely replaced with a chip in your hand,” Meow said. “When you put your hands on the steering wheel, that could start your car.”

Having unique identifiers within the body could also reduce other moments of friction. “When I walk into a supermarket, it will tag me as I go in, every single piece of food that I buy will be NFC tagged and I’ll just walk out. The transaction will happen automatically,” he suggested.

If these chips become smarter, their potential could be immense. What if your in-body payment chip was connected to health sensors, for example?

“If you hadn’t exercised enough in a day, it might stop you from eating [bad] foods,” he said. “If it had a sensor that could detect blood glucose or heart rate, or it connected to a Fitbit, so that the Fitbit says ‘Oh, you haven’t run today, we’re not going to let you buy a Mars bar.'”

Meow-Ludo Meow Meow.

Meow-Ludo Meow Meow.

Image: facebook/Meow-Ludo Meow Meow

Hacking the body

Meow has no time for the qualms and queasiness of body-hacking critics. In his view, many people already have technology inside them — among them, pacemakers, Implanon, IUDs and blood glucose monitors.

“I’m very interested in challenging people’s conception of bodily sovereignty and their ideas around how you interact with technology,” he explained.

Waters agreed there was a stigma to implants, particularly their potential to allow Big Brother-style tracking. “All I want to do is to take the capabilities of what’s in my wallet right now and reduce that down to a chip,” he said. “Nothing too sinister.”

Having unique identifiers built into the body may be a privacy obsessive’s nightmare, but for Meow, the age of anonymity is well and truly over. We already give companies immense reams of our biological data — think fingerprint access on our smartphones or iris authentication — and such chips could go someway to halting that flow.

“A thumb swipe, or a fingerprint, or an iris scan, [can be used] to identify or authenticate, but it’s actually a lot easier to go the other way,” he said. “Instead of getting the computer to read your information, the technology inside you [could] run on the same information.” 

If you’re wondering where he gets his inspiration for experimentation, you have popular culture to thank. Tinkering with old Omega systems forms some of his childhood memories, but it was really the blurring line between biology and computing that was most alluring, and one film provided an answer.

“The first thing I wanted to be was a genetic engineer,” Meow said. “I watched Jurassic Park, and I’m like, I want to do what they’re doing.”

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.



A founders guide to recession planning for startups




We are living through one of the nation’s longest periods of economic growth. Unfortunately, the good times can’t last forever. A recession is likely on the horizon, even if we can’t pinpoint exactly when. Founders can’t afford to wait until the midst of a downturn to figure out their game plans; that would be like initiating swim lessons only after getting dumped in the open ocean.

When recession inevitably strikes, it will be many founders’ — and even many VCs’ — first experiences navigating a downturn. Every startup executive needs a recession playbook. The time to start building it is now.

While recessions make running any business tough, they don’t necessitate doom. I co-founded two separate startups just before downturns struck, yet I successfully navigated one through the 2000 dot-com bust and the second through the 2008 financial crisis. Both companies not only survived but thrived. One went public and the second was acquired by Mastercard.

I hope my lessons learned prove helpful to building your own recession game plan.

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Revolut partners with Flagstone to offer savings vaults in the UK




Fintech startup Revolut lets you earn interest on your savings thanks to a new feature called savings vaults. That feature is currently only available to users living in the U.K. and paying taxes in the U.K.

The company has partnered with Flagstone for that feature. For now, the feature is limited to Revolut customers with a Metal subscription (£12.99 per month or £116 per year). But Revolut says that it will be available to Revolut Premium and Standard customers in the near future.

Savings vaults work pretty much like normal vaults. You can create sub-accounts in the Revolut app to put some money aside. And Revolut offers you multiple ways to save. You can round up all your card transactions to the nearest pound and save spare change in a vault.

You also can set up weekly or monthly transactions from your main account to a vault. And, of course, you can transfer money manually whenever you want.

Metal customers in the U.K. can now turn normal vaults into savings vaults. The only difference is that you’re going to earn interest — Revolut pays that interest daily. You can take money from your savings vault whenever you want.

Revolut promises 1.35% AER interest rate up to a certain limit. If you put a huge sum of money in your savings vault, you’ll get a lower interest rate above the limit. Your money is protected by the FSCS up to a value of £85,000 for eligible customers.

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True digitalisation of the B2B payments space is only just hitting its stride –…




By Andres Ricaurte, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Payments, Mphasis

In the past few years, as fintechs have increasingly come into play on the global stage, not only have they shaken up the way in which traditional business is done – but they also shone a light on the need for significant innovation in the payments space.

For banks and other financial services providers, global payments revenues were $1.9 trillion in 2018, of which half were B2B. The sector represents a significant growth opportunity and is attracting major attention from emerging digital players. One thing is clear – banks and technology players are no longer separate entities but two interchangeable sides of the same coin.

As payment digitalisation continues to take place, how can providers ensure that they adopt technological advancements in 2020 to address some of the industry’s most challenging pain points and create unique angles to stay ahead of the curve?

Planting the seeds for success

Looking back over 2019, we saw B2B payments continue to move towards modernisation, particularly as businesses began to look at their end-to-end processes more holistically, utilise data more effectively, and replace their old systems with more nimble digital solutions.

One of the major trends has been the merging of accounts payable and accounts receivable data, feeding into a growing requirement from customers for a higher level of visibility and control to drive better business decisions. As a result, providers must start taking a wider view that encompasses both of these critical processes, to deliver more meaningful insights and help businesses optimise what have typically been two separate sides of the same coin.

Certainly there have been some teething issues to resolve, such as inconsistent tools and processes for businesses to share information with their buyers and suppliers, as well as associated privacy and cyber security issues that arise from the adoption of more open data frameworks.

While some progress has been made, particularly through the creation of ‘closed-loop’ buyer-supplier networks and ecosystems, there is significant room for improvement. Software and financial services providers alike are finding their feet in terms of capitalising on data to create truly intelligent and context-aware B2B payment solutions.

What other key trends will 2020 bring?

In the year ahead, I anticipate that AI and machine learning will play a huge part in shaping the future of B2B payments. As businesses continue to digitalise payments, invoicing and other trade-related processes, richer and larger data sets will increasingly become available. These technologies will pave the way for real-time data analytics and actionable insights. They will also help drive operational efficiencies through cutting down on the cumbersome (and error-prone) manual labour traditionally used to perform functions like cash flow management and forecasting. 

Additionally, SaaS adoption will gain even greater momentum, especially in the areas of treasury, accounting, order to cash, and procure to pay, which will change how corporates consume financial services and choose payment providers.

We will also see major disruption in how employees pay for day-to-day expenses thanks to the rapid adoption of B2B mobile capabilities, new payments form factors and innovative configurations for expense accounts. One of the knock-on effects is that traditional cards and expense reports will start becoming obsolete.

Last but in no way least, digital currencies will remain on the worldwide agenda. Leading financial services institutions and governments alike are evaluating and testing the pros and cons of blockchain technologies in re-designing the money supply chain. Consequently, it’s likely that new use cases for payments and settlements will not just appear, but begin to see early stages of market adoption.

Overall, while progress in payment digitalisation will be different across sectors, geographies and segments, embracing a digital-first, data-centric approach across all aspects of B2B trade and commerce is a must-have for businesses looking to future-proof their operations.


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