Finger Money

Consumers at retail outlets throughout suburban Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland are among the first in the United States to pay with their fingers at 24 retail locations involved in a biometric payment services pilot.

To create an account with participating merchants, customers presented a blank personal check and their drivers' licenses or other valid ID to the merchant for scanning. Customers also entered a 10-digit unique number -- a telephone number, for example -- into a card payment terminal.

The customer's two index fingers are scanned on the finger pad and converted into an algorithmic number. From that point forward, when consumers want to pay for purchases at a participating retailer, they simply enter their 10-digit ID number, place their index fingers on the biometric finger pad and payments are authorized from their checking account within 10 seconds.

The technology resulted from a partnership between BioPay and Hypercom Corp. BioPay handles the biometric payment service, and Hypercom manufactures the terminals and finger-scanning pads.

The system was designed to offer convenience, faster payments and security.

"This new technology is fast, easy and convenient for customers, and it allows me to accept a secure, low-cost form of payment which helps increase my bottom line," said Tom Webb, a General Nutrition Center franchise owner.

Epson Develops World's Smallest Flying Microrobot

Epson unveiled a prototype of the world's smallest flying microrobot at the 2003 International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo.

The robot was built to show off the company's work on micromechatronics and explore possible applications for the technology. The tiny device levitates itself by using contra-rotating propellers powered by an ultrathin, ultrasonic motor with the world's highest power-weight ratio, according to Epson. The robot balances itself in mid-air with the world's first stabilizing mechanism using a linear actuator.

The device displayed in Tokyo is the latest in a line of Epson microrobots, which the company calls its EMRoS series. The first, called the Monsieur, went on the market in 1993 and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's smallest microrobot.

In April 2003, Epson developed the Monsieur II-P, a prototype that contains a power-saving Bluetooth module that allows multiple units to be remotely controlled simultaneously. The company even staged a full-blown microrobot ballet theater to demonstrate its use of Bluetooth.

Retina Implant Aims to Help Blind See

MIT and Harvard Medical School researchers are developing an eye implant that can restore vision in patients with retinitis pigmentosa -- the leading cause of inherited blindness -- and age-related macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness in the general population.

The Retinal Prosthesis Group, an academic consortium of material scientists, software engineers, ophthalmologists and retinal physiologists, has worked for about 15 years to bypass diseased or damaged retinas to deliver images to the brain.

Under local anesthesia, researchers implanted silicon chips containing ultrathin electrode grids in five blind subjects and one with a normal retina who was going to lose her eye due to a surrounding cancer. The chips were introduced through patients' dilated pupils and temporarily attached to the retinal surface. The grid bypasses the individual's defective rods and cones by stimulating healthy ganglion cells with a tiny electrical current.

Researchers then applied a stimulation pattern to the chips, and asked the patients to draw what they saw. Their drawings corresponded to the stimulation patterns about half of the time, according to the researchers.

The group says the technology is unlikely to restore reading ability to patients with little or no usable retinas, but it could produce a retinal prosthesis that enables them find a door in a room, walk down the street without a cane, recognize a face or

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor