Purchasing lunch in a Muscogee County, Ga., high school cafeteria no longer requires showing a physical card with an identification number. All nine high schools in the county’s district now offer palm scanners at the end of the lunch line that identify the student and therefore allow cafeteria cashiers access to a student’s meal account.

The scanners have near-infrared technology, the same type that is used for Nintendo Wii video games. When a hand hovers over the scanner, it can identify the individual by his or her vein pattern below the skin, allowing the student to electronically pay for the meal.

Each scan takes about four seconds and according to an announcement from the school district, purchases conducted with the scanners have about 99 percent accuracy.

School Nutrition Director Marian Bone said this is the first year the district’s high school cafeterias have had this technology available, but so far, most students and parents like the scanners.

“They are so excited," Bone said. “They think we’re so modern.”

At this year’s high school registration, the devices were available to take high-resolution infrared photographs of the students’ vein patterns in their palms. Each image was then recorded and digitized for the cafeteria's computer database.

The scanners use Meral Computing Services software with Fujitsu PalmSecure hardware, and are priced at $395 apiece, Bone said.

According to Fujitsu, the scanners identify vein patterns against the pre-registered vein patterns to authenticate the individual.

Bone said they started using the new system last week with the start of the new school year. So far, technology has helped the lunch lines go faster since students no longer need to show physical meal plan identification cards to cashiers.

In the past, students would use other students’ identification numbers for obtaining lunches since students have electronic meal accounts. Parents can electronically submit money to a student’s meal account through the district’s online meal payment portal.

Bone said that since the new scanner program better identifies each individual, it will keep students from purchasing meals using accounts that don’t belong to them.

But not everyone is a fan of the new system. Some parents have opted their children out of the voluntary program, while some have voiced concern that the scanners might contribute to the spread of germs if touched. To respond to the worry about germs, high schools provide hand sanitizer near the scanners.

Germ concerns aside, the district is interested in expanding the scanner technology to its intermediate and elementary schools.

According to previous reports, the scanners have also been deployed in Pinellas County, Fla., schools.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.