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Making money fit for the future

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There is a problem with money – it now comes in many forms, but is not fit for the future. That’s going to change, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.|easy tech

Pepper is not your everyday waiter. He is a robot that can move on its own wheels, taking orders from customers in a restaurant, fetching the food and delivering it to tables. But he’s not just a novelty: over the past year, more than 14 000 units have been deployed in fast food outlets across Japan.

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Its maker, Softbank, builds a thousand every month and sells out as fast it produces them. Pepper has branched out into dentist offices, bathhouses and even life insurance sales.

Pepper’s international breakthrough came in May, when Softbank teamed up with Mastercard to add payment functionality via the Masterpass digital wallet app. It allows customers to pair the app on their smartphones with Pepper, and make payment through a touching a button on their screens or tapping the phone on Pepper.

It is currently being rolled out out mainly by Pizza Hut in its outlets across Asia, but is not going to stick to fast food. Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance in Japan plans to put a hundred Peppers to work as salesrobots at its 80 branches.

Pepper may well look like the future of sales, but in truth is only one of many futures that is beginning to emerge. At the Mastercard Innovation Forum in Budapest last week, where Pepper made an appearance, it was clear that the real secret was not in the artificial intelligence that makes Pepper possible, but in the interfaces that make payments seamless.

According to Michael Miebach, chief product officer at Mastercard, the problem with money is that it no longer works seamlessly, even in the digital area of connected accounts and mobile money apps.

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“The consumer today mainly engages with us through plastic, and some use digital payment factors,” said Miebach in an interview in Budapest. “So the payment experience can be digital, but there are many other experiences around payment that are not connected to each other.

“Take loyalty programmes with frequent flyer miles: to figure out what my mileage is, I have to go onto a website. And I can’t connect it with my card account. So there is a disconnect between all the payment tools. Many of them work well by themselves, but they are not fit for the future.”

This startling statement comes as research reveals it is not only so-called millennials who are ready for digital and connected payment systems. Consumers across the board want to be able to pay on any available channel, at any time, anywhere.

“They want convenience, it must be simple and smart, and it must be secure,” said Miebach. “The most important thing is safety and security, which is not only about preventing theft: it means that the payment must only take place when you want it to, and where you want it. Those needs are universal, for millennials and for older people.”

The initial focus is on what has been around for a long time, namely the existing form factor of the plastic card and how it will evolve, and linking it to what’s happening in the Internet space.

The big push in the United States at present is for the EMV system, named for card associations Europay, Mastercard and Visa. A chip embedded in the EMV card allows for authentication of the transaction on the card itself via a PIN number linked to the chip. South Africa introduced the system a few years ago, but it is only beginning to be a dominant safety standard in the USA.

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It is likely to be followed by a shift to tokenisation, which allows a random string of digits, linked to a card number, to be used once-off for the transaction, so that the card details are not stored by the merchant, and cannot be reused if intercepted.

Then, according to Miebach, “We move all the way to consumer self-authentication, or biometrics, and here it gets really interesting. I believe biometrics will be a critical factor to identify who is paying and who they are paying.”

Many smartphone users are already familiar with biometrics thanks to fingerprint recognition on newer smartphones. However, Miebach believes that facial recognition has the potential to be as big.

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, Mastercard demonstrated the concept of Selfie Pay, based on many smartphones having a camera that can recognise facial features. Instead of typing in a password, the user selects the Selfie Pay option, takes a photo with the front camera of the phone, and the transaction is authenticated. It’s already in use in California and the Netherlands.

In principle, there is little difference between biometric authentication like fingerprint and facial recognition on the one hand, and voice and iris scans on the other. It all comes down to the platform where the payment is being made, and which is the most natural form of authentication at that moment.

However, even the selfie does not offer enough convenience, says Miebach, as one still has to hold up the phone and take pic.

Raghav Malik, Senior Analyst in Enterprise Security Solutions doing a product demonstration of Identity Check in MasterCard stand at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. The company displayed the future of payments for devices and wearables. (Carlos Alonso/AP Images for MasterCard)

Raghav Malik, Senior Analyst in Enterprise Security Solutions doing a product demonstration of Identity Check in MasterCard stand at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. The company displayed the future of payments for devices and wearables. (Carlos Alonso/AP Images for MasterCard)

“How about if you have continuous proof of life, such as heartbeat patterns and continual authentication, based on wearables? It will be very intuitive and consumers won’t even notice it’s happening.”

There is one fundamental reason consumers would embrace this payments future, and why organisations like Mastercard are working so hard to turn it into reality.

“It sure beats the world of today with the range of passwords and user names we need to remember,” says Miebach. “That’s like having to guess who you are every time you make a payment.”

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  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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CES: And thanks for all the beer!

Last week, the Las Vegas expo showed off its fun side with state-of-the-art technologies for making and enjoying beer, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From craft beer-making machines to robots that pour beer, CES had more beer than usual in Las Vegas last week. And even free beer if you found the right stand. Stampede’s saloon-style booth offered beer to visitors who tried out its latest drones, virtual reality, and other gaming products. No beer tech, though.

Here are some of the beer technologies that stood out:

LG HomeBrew – Craft beer made at home

LG’s HomeBrew craft beer-making machine,  debuted at CES 2019, brings the brewing process home thanks to single-use capsules,  a self-cleaning feature, and an algorithm optimised for fermentation. 

Like a Nespresso coffee machine, the beer maker uses capsules, which contain malt, yeast, hop oil and flavouring. At the press of a button, LG HomeBrew automates the whole procedure from fermentation and carbonation to ageing. A companion app lets users check HomeBrew’s status at any time during the process, from their handsets.

The beer machine not only offers a simple way to make craft beer, but also enhances the quality of beer it makes. The fermentation algorithm intelligently controls the fermenting process with precise temperature and pressure control. It automatically sanitises itself, using nothing more than hot water, ensuring everything is hygienically clean for the next batch.

Designed with discerning beer lovers in mind, HomeBrew allows for in-home production of batches of more than 4 litres of beer in a variety of styles. The following five distinctive, flavoured beers are available now: 

  • Hoppy American IPA
  • Golden American Pale Ale
  • Full-bodied English Stout
  • Zesty Belgian-style Witbier
  • Dry Czech Pilsner

The only catch? It takes about two weeks to make, depending on the beer type.

“LG HomeBrew is the culmination of years of home appliance and water purification technologies that we’ve developed over the decades,” said Dan Song, president of LG Electronics Home Appliance & Air Solutions Company. “Homebrewing has grown at an explosive pace, but there are still many beer lovers who haven’t taken the jump because of the barriers to entry, like complexity, and these are the consumers we think will be attracted to LG HomeBrew.”

Click here to read about the party speaker that holds beer and robots that pour beer.

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CES: Alienware gets Legend-ary

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At CES in Las Vegas last week, Dell’s Alienware released a family of high-end, thin, light, and affordable machines for both amateur and professional gamers – and a new identity.

Alienware marked CES 2019 as a brand milestone with the debut of a new design identity, Alienware Legend. It aims to set a new bar of excellence for what gamers want most – performance and function. Alienware says it evaluated multiple concepts and chose one that was the biggest and boldest departure from its current look.

Alienware Legend, says the company, stays true to the brand’s core design tenets, taking cues from its deep roots in sci-fi culture and its early industrial designs, to distinguish the brand from the rest of the industry. The new Legend design is optimised with cutting-edge thermal cooling technology to achieve and sustain overclocking power, improved AlienFX lighting, and ultra-thin screen borders. It also unveiled a new “three-knuckle hinge” design that reduces the overall dimension while creating a stronger assembly, all combining to yield a better gaming experience.

“We’re excited to come to this year’s CES with some truly groundbreaking products, next-gen software and strategic partnerships that will bring more people to experience PC gaming and advance the industry,” said Frank Azor, vice president and general manager of Alienware. “The legend design answers the call for more and better from our gaming community, and the new G Series laptops will make PC gaming even more accessible to those looking for high-performance gaming at a cost they can appreciate.”

Click here to read about Alienware Legend in action with the Area-51m and m-series laptops

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