Japanese startup allows consumers to pay with their fingertips

© Marco Bello
Remember the scene from the Hollywood movie ‘Back to the Future Part II’ where a character was able to pay for a taxi ride by swiping his finger? Well the move has just become a reality thanks to a Japanese startup company.

The Tokyo-based firm Liquid Inc. has solved a major challenge for implementing fingerprint payments, which involved matching the print to a huge database containing millions of other prints, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Backed by the Japanese government and the country’s biggest names in banking and technology, Liquid Inc. has begun rolling out the new payment system for retailers across Asia, including the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

Yasuhiro Kuda, head of the startup, said more biometrics technology should be used in society.

“Biometrics is convenient but it’s not widely used as much as it should be,” the 31-year-old said.

READ MORE: Putin orders fingerprinting of all foreigners arriving in Russia

“Imagine yourself being completely hands-free at poolside bars, taxis or outside music festivals,” Kuda added. “We believe this is for the post-smartphone age.”

Biometric technology means individuals can use fingerprints, veins and facial features as forms of identification. The global biometrics market is expected to expand from $2 billion in 2015 to $14.9 billion by 2024, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Popular biometric systems can be found with Apple products, where the iPhone, for example, identifies one fingerprint belonging to the owner of the phone at a touch of the screen.  

But, the growing industry has been met with its fair share of issues. While a computer can easily identify digital data on the magnetic strip of a credit card to an entry of a cardholder database, fingertip patterns are not as straightforward.

A way to potentially make transactions more secure could be if a person presents a physical identification to speed things up.

Police departments currently use the same biometric method as Liquid Inc. when identifying fingerprints at crime scenes, but the timeframe for results takes at least one day, something which Kuda has sped up, to make the process faster.

The system has been tested out by Huis Ten Bosch Co, which operates a theme park in southern Japan. Season pass holders are able to pay for food and rides at the touch of a fingertip.

As good as it sounds, some experts have called Liquid Inc.’s ideas unrealistic.

William Saito, who advises the Japanese government on cybersecurity, said he doubted whether it would be beneficial to consumers.

“It is not useful for commercial verification without sacrifices in speed and accuracy,” he said.