The future of mobile payment is (not) here

As I am trying to limit the number of credit and payment cards I am carrying in my wallet, I decided to experiment with my San Francisco MUNI card. What would happen if I were to tape the RFID chip on the back of my Palm Pre --would I still be able to pay when I get on the bus?


First, I cut the chip off the Translink card (now called Clipper). Then I taped it on the back of my Palm Pré while still allowing the back to close properly. Then I got on the bus.

Andrew Seipp faved this
  • Global X 5y

    Failed experiment: I waved my Palm Pré close to the RFID reader, even touching it at several angles --it didn't work. The conductor asked me what I was doing. Rather than get into a technical explanation, I just gave him $2 in cash. EPIC FAIL!
  • Global X 5y

    Follow up to my failed experiment: I removed the chip from my Palm Pre and tried to use it by itself to get on another bus: fail! Which means that the chip itself is not enough to connect with the MUNI's back end. It needs the card, or part of the card, as there may be a hidden antenna inside the layers.

    Lesson learned: I am ready for mobile payment, but mobile payment is not ready for me.
  • ryan around PRO 5y

    That's not an RFID chip you cut out. That's basically a SIM like you use in GSM phones. RFID doesn't require physical contacts with the chip in order to be read.
  • Brian Madden PRO 5y

    Yeah you cut out the wrong part. The Translink / Clipper card has two "chips" in it.. there's the smart chip with the gold contacts that you can see (and that you cut out), and there's the internal RFID chip (with internal antenna). At this time, Translink does not even make use if the smart chip.. that's for future cashless payment options. So actually you cut out the exact opposite of what you need.

    All that said, there's a very good chance that the remnant of what you cut out will still work.. (assuming you didn't cut through the antenna). So try using the translink carcass and save yourself the 5 bucks for the new card. :)
  • Jeff Saltzman PRO 5y

    With people regularly getting busted for fare evasion, it would be tricky (at best) to explain to a fare inspector that no no, you really do have a Clipper card, but you transplanted its critical organs into your phone...:o

    Even if it the tag-in-phone plan worked and they could scan your phone for the RFID tag for proof of payment, I imagine an inspector (and his or her supervisors) would suspect you of spoofing the reader.
  • Eric Hunt PRO 5y

    I have not read the Clipper Terms of Service or the section of CA Criminal Code that allows the use of Clipper as valid transit fare but anyone interested in doing these types of modifications should definitely read them. I would not be surprised if what you've done has been anticipated and made illegal.

    Remember what happened to the guys who were going to show how insecure the Boston fare payment system was? Transit agencies *do not like* people messing with their stuff.
  • Global X 5y

    Thanks, guys, for helping me understand why my experiment failed. First, I tried to use the wrong part of the card, something I should have noticed since the new Clipper cards don't have a smart chip. That should have told me that the antenna was inside the card. Doh!

    In addition, this whole experiment may or may not be legal, which is a bit sad considering that we are so close to Silicon Valley. If there is a place where innovation (without cheating) should be encouraged, it is San Francisco.

    Bottom line: we should ask MUNI to sell mini-Clipper cards that fit in a mobile phone, or in between the phone and the plastic case many people use to protect their phones.
  • John Marsland 5y

    Is anyone planning on doing a follow up and letting us know where the antennae is located?
  • Eric Hunt PRO 5y

    Translink gave a presentation at my company well over a year ago and the representative told us the antenna is distributed throughout the entire card. Apparently people liked to punch a hole in the corner of the card and hang the card from a key ring, but the hole punch destroys the antenna.
  • jakerome PRO 5y

    Interesting stuff.

    Nice Pre photo. Join the Palm Pre group & use great apps like Flickr Mundo to find more Palm fans & browse Flickr.
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Taken on September 18, 2010
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