Cell phones can do that?
It seems that without fail, mobile technology advances at such a rate that the devices we carry with us—everywhere—can do things that we couldn’t have imagined only a year before. Who would have thought the brick and battery pack phones of only twenty years ago would transform into super-slim, elegant designs capable of not only making phones calls, but managing email, taking photos, playing video games, browsing the Web, and mapping routes via GPS?
Then again, who would have thought that a phone could replace their wallet?
A team of ECE seniors developed a software system that aims to do just that. “Phoney Money,” created by Kevin Allgaier, Brianna Carges, Amy Costandi, Barry Lai, and Jeff Li, enables Apple iPhone users to make secure in-store credit card payments—with their phones—and also provides retailers with the means to seamlessly accept those payments. The traditional stack of plastic cards with magnetically encoded strips appears to be the latest casualty of the mobile virtualization trend.
Developing such a system is no simple task, though. It is, in fact, handling people’s money.
“Because we were focused on creating a real-world product, we faced many challenges in ensuring that our system is both scalable and secure,” said the team. “A major issue was determining how the customer’s phone and the merchant’s point-of-sale system could ‘find’ each other in order to communicate. Once we determined this, we also spent a great deal of effort researching the protocol to use for message-passing between the devices. Both of these issues required us to consider cost, implementation difficulty, convenience, security features, and the ability to support a large number of concurrent users.”
While this is a new concept for the U.S. market, phone-based payments systems are fairly commonplace in countries such as Japan. But Phoney Money has a unique advantage.
“It doesn’t require any special hardware or dedicated credit/debit accounts,” said Allgaier. “By focusing on using proven, scalable technologies like Java, MySQL, and XMPP instant messaging, the system allows customers to use the accounts they already have, and merchants can integrate the software directly into their existing PC-based checkout systems.”