Nymi Band uses your heartbeat to secure mobile payments

Al Sacco

Nymi Band mobile payments
Credit: Nymi

You may pay for groceries with your smartphone and a connected credit card, via Apple Pay or Google Wallet. You may have seen some techy-type at your local drug store pay for his toothpaste and toilet paper with an Apple Watch. What you've probably not yet witnessed is someone making a secure payment with a tap of the wrist and biometric, heartbeat authentication. But if Canadian company Nymi has its way, you will. 

Nymi this week announced the successful trial of its Nymi Band wrist-worn heart-rate monitor as an NFC mobile payments device. It uses heart rate, or electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), measurements to verify your identity. Nymi first discussed its plans to bring payment authentication to its Band last fall, and today, the system is in action, albeit limited action, in Canada. 

Nymi partnered with TD Bank Group and MasterCard for the initial trial, which began a month ago when the first Nymi payment was made in Canada. More than 100 TD users in Toronto, Ottawa and Regina, many of whom are TD bank employees, are currently testing the Nymi Band's contactless payment functionality as part of the closed pilot program.

Additional Canadian banks, including RBC Royal Bank, are expected to launch similar Nymi pilots later this year. Nymi says it expects thousands of payments to be made using its Band before the end of the year. Karl Martin, Nymi CEO, wouldn't say when, or if, Nymi Bands or technology will be available in the United States or Europe. However, the company is working with partner companies in the U.S. and Europe.

How Nymi Band works

After Nymi pilot users set up their devices for the first time and create an authentication profile, they need only put on the Band, which has a sensor on its bottom side that sits on the wrist, and then tap a finger to another sensor on its upper panel to authenticate. (Nymi added payment-card information for individual users beforehand as part of the closed pilot.)

Unlike popular fitness trackers that also measure heart rates, Nymi uses an electrical signal instead of an optical one, so it requires two points of contact for that initial authentication, according to Martin. To make payments, Nymi users simply hold their devices close to compatible contactless payment terminals for a second or two.

The Nymi Band is not just for payments. It's designed to be used for a variety of authentication purposes, and it can also unlock PCs, Macs and smartphones along with Nymi desktop and mobile apps.

Nymi, mobile payments and the enterprise 

The NFC-enabled pilot devices work with any contactless, point of sale (PoS) terminals that support NFC and MasterCard's PayPass. Martin says that is "most" contactless terminals in Canada. Retailers with these systems don't need to do anything to support Nymi payments, according to Martin.

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