Mon, Jan 17, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Chip implant makes its debut at VIP British club

THE OBSERVER , London

The old excuse "I've left my wallet at home" will soon no longer hold when it's your round. A British nightclub is about to offer its regulars the option of having a microchip implanted in their arm that will obviate the need to carry cash or plastic.

Lining up for entry or a drink at the bar would also become a thing of the past when the "digital wallet" is introduced by Bar Soba in Glasgow. The chip is already proving popular with VIP members at two nightclubs in Barcelona and Rotterdam.

Although the concept strikes critics as Orwellian, others believe it is only a matter of time before the chip becomes a method of fraud-proof common currency.

Brad Stevens, owner of Bar Soba, said his motivation was to be cutting-edge and to reward loyal customers. He said he had received a surprisingly enthusiastic response from regulars.

"There are a number of advantages from instant access to one of our many exclusive DJ and VIP nights and not having to carry money or credit cards to letting bar staff know a customer's name and favorite drink. By the time you walk through the door to the bar, your favorite drink is waiting for you and the bar staff can greet you by name," Stevens said.

He also recognized the risks.

"There is a danger that if a person's not carrying cash, they could just keep on drinking. But we're looking at ways of setting a limit on how much can be spent," he said.

The VeriChip is the size of a grain of rice, does not set off airport scanners and contains no power supply. It is encased inside a glass and silicone cylinder and implanted by a medical professional, under local anaesthetic, between the layer of fat and skin on the upper arm. It has a life span of around 20 years, lies dormant until a scanner is passed over it, and sends out a low-range radio frequency. It responds to the signal and supplies the scanner with its unique ID number. How that number is used depends on the database the scanner is hooked up to. In the case of Soba, it will be the balance on a person's bar account.

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