Wearable tech and the payment revolution

Thursday 25 June 2015

Here’s a trend I think we’ll see more of: wearable bitcoin tech.

Take a look at this engagement ring, the idea of Seb Neumayer, who wanted something a little bit different to your standard solitaire diamond. Effectively it’s just a QR code representing the bitcoin address, mounted on a ring. The private key has to be stored elsewhere, which also gives you a degree of security - if the ring is stolen, the thief can view its balance all they like but they won’t have access to the funds. It’s as simple as it gets in terms of arranging payments if you’re out and about - no smartphone or computer needed by the payee, plus it’s small and, for better or worse, a bit of a talking point.

Bitcoin ring

Friends can tell exactly how much he spent by snapping the QR code

Read also: The CoolWallet 

If you want to pay out from your ring, it gets a little trickier. Charlie Shrem, founding member of the Bitcoin Foundation and now residing in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania for money laundering for the Silk Road, had a partial answer to this. He had a ring with his wallet’s private key engraved on the inside, minus one character. Whilst that makes it harder for a casual thief to sweep the balance, it would take a computer about a millisecond to guess all the possible permutations. It’s not a perfect solution; Shrem became known as ‘Four-fingered Charlie’, and you have to wonder where it is while he’s serving his time.

Whilst a ring is probably too small to carry out two-way transactions conveniently until the technology miniaturises further, something like the CoolWallet would be ideal if adapted as a wristwatch or bracelet. It uses NFC (near-field communication) to talk to your computer or mobile device. It’s highly secure and intuitive to use, with a neat ‘tap-tap’ function to pay.


The incomparable CoolWallet, by the aptly-named Leo Treasure

This is surely the way things will go. Bitcoin’s competition in the physical world isn’t PayPal, it’s contactless payment - the chips embedded in credit and debit cards that mean you can pay by holding them near the payment terminal for a second or so. Compared to that, pulling out a smartphone, snapping a QR code and hitting send takes an age.

Two years back, bitcoin was a quirky payment method for geeks and drug-users - inconvenient in real life and clunky online. Now, it’s getting close to competing with the fiat corporates’ best efforts at frictionless payment, and it’s far ahead in terms of efficiency.

Brandon Hurst

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