Coming to a school cafeteria checkout near you: palm scanners

Font Size:

Students at schools in Pinellas County, Fla. pay for lunch by waving their hands over a palm scanner instead of using money or anything similarly outdated.

The palm-swiping process uses the near-infrared technology television remote controls use, USA Today reports. It takes approximately four seconds and it’s 99 percent accurate.

“It’s so quick that a child could be standing in line, call mom and say, ‘I forgot my lunch money today.’ She’s by her computer, runs her card, and by the time the child is at the front of the line, it’s already recorded,” explained Art Dunham, director of food services for Pinellas County Schools.

The Tampa Bay area school district switched from lunch money to palm scanning roughly 18 months ago. Some 50,000 students across nearly 40 high schools and middle schools are currently eligible. That number will more than double soon, when the program expands to 80 elementary schools.

Students can opt out of palm scanning but only about 2 percent still use cash.

The palm scanners reportedly don’t present a hygiene problem because students never touch the machine to register a scan. They need only hold a hand just above it.

“We just love it,” Dunham told USA Today. “No one wants to go back.”

Not everyone shares his enthusiasm about palm scanning at the school lunch counter. Michael Webb, whose son Ian is a second grader in Carroll County, Md., has chosen not to participate in a similar program at Piney Ridge Elementary School.

“My son is not using the technology,” Webb said. “I’ll be honest, I think it’s horrible. It’s an intrusion into our children’s rights.”

Webb worries that the use of such identification technology could prevent young children from recognizing privacy violations when they grow older.

“I understand taking an iris scan of a pilot at an airport, so you know it’s the right pilot flying the plane,” Webb explained. “This is that level of equipment they’re installing in a line that serves steamed corn. I don’t think it rises to the level of steamed corn.”

Biometric tracking systems that recognize people by their physical features are turning up all over the place. Hospitals are also using the technology. All told, more than 50 school systems and 160 hospital systems in 15 states and the District of Columbia currently use palm scanners.

The use of the technology is likely to expand to other sectors. Banks are poised to start using them soon, particularly at ATMs. Palm scanners could also become a feature of cloud computing.

Follow Eric on Twitter

Eric Owens