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Far Out Tech

The Future of Retail: Paying With Your Face?

The Future of Retail: Paying With Your Face?
Image credit: Uniqul

Far Out Tech

It seems like every other day we read about some far-out, new technology that makes us scratch our heads and say, "What the heck?" In this series, we'll take a look at all types of crazy new gadgets, apps and other technologies -- and the entrepreneurs dreaming them up.

Leave your pocket full of coins at home. A Finnish startup called Uniqul has created a payment system that is built on facial-recognition technology, without a need for cash or credit cards. Translation: This thing will let you pay with your face.

Yes, your face.

Customers who sign up with Uniqul will register a major credit card or information for a PayPal account. In stores that carry the Uniqul scanner, all anyone would need to do is stand next to the terminal, look into the camera and press OK. That's it. Essentially, the technology analyzes footage of a person's face, creates a numerical code based on its measurements, and then checks it against its database of users.

Expected to launch this fall, the service will be available to users for a monthly subscription fee. For businesses, the basic service is likely to be free. According to TechWeek Europe, Uniqul is primarily targeted at small businesses in the hospitality sector, and will "enable them to offer targeted incentives." 

For the founders of Uniqul, the goal is to speed up the check-out process from approximately 30 seconds to fewer than five seconds, the company says on its website. A tool like this could be good for businesses that get high amounts of foot traffic.

And there is already evidence that retail shops are tapping into facial-recognition technology. A U.K.-based company called NEC IT Solutions offers a tool that can scan people's faces as they walk in the door, identify celebrities or other important customers and then notify staff about their presence in the store. The technology can even provide store owners with details like the person's dress size, favorite types of items or shopping history, London's Sunday Times reported. The technology is apparently being tested in a number of stores and hotels in the U.S. and the U.K., among other locations.

Sounds wonderfully useful -- if not completely creepy. Given our increasingly elevated awareness of privacy issues, paying with your face may not become a widely-adopted practice -- in the immediate future, anyway.


Jason Fell is the managing editor of

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