Dezeen Magazine

Swedish rail company swaps paper tickets for embedded microchips

Swedish train operator SJ Railways has become the latest company to adopt technology that reads microchips embedded in the body, and is using it as an alternative to printed rail passes.

Implanted into the hand, the microchip is scanned by the conductor to validate tickets.

The system works by registering each passenger with a membership number, which is stored in the microchip, and monitored and updated via an app on the customer's smartphone.

The microchip and app exchange information using near-field communication (NFC) – the same wireless data transfer technology used by Apple Pay, Android Pay and Amiibo.

As the conductor moves through the train to check tickets, passengers are able to simply hold out their hand for the conductor to scan and check ticket information. SJ Railways claims it is the first travel company in the world to offer this service.

Around 3,000 rail passengers already using microchip technology

After a trial period that took place earlier this year and involved around 100 of the company's SJ Prio members – a scheme that allows members to collect points as they travel – the firm claimed in a recent interview with the BBC that there are now around 3,000 commuters using the technology.

"SJ is already one of Sweden's most digital companies, so this new project could be started up very quickly," said Peter Dahlqvist, head of SJ Business Sales. "The microchip ticket is a good example of how we are happy to try out new ideas alongside customers and help to force the pace of digital development."

In an interview with the BBC, SJ press officer Stephen Ray said he envisages the technology replacing "a lot of stuff" – including credit cards, and car and house keys.

Ray's predictions support comments made by Tesla founder Elon Musk and Neil Harbisson, the first officially recognised human cyborg.

In an interview with Dezeen back in 2013, Harbisson said that technology will increasingly be integrated into the body "to extend our abilities, our knowledge and our perceptions of reality".

More recently, Tesla founder Musk predicted that humans will need to become cyborgs to survive in the near future, as artificial intelligence systems become more and more common.

Chip implants also in use for office access

SJ Railways' decision to launch the microchip follows the success of a similar scheme implemented by local business partner Epicenter, an innovation centre for technology and start-up companies in central Stockholm.

Members of Epicenter are given the option of using a microchip implant rather than a swipe card to access the company's premises. Through the collaboration, SJ's business passengers had access to a daily pass at Epicenter, which led to several SJ customers expressing an interest in the microchip implants.

"Some of SJ's business passengers at Epicenter contacted us and asked about the possibility of using the microchip for the train journey," said Lina Edström from the SJ business sales team. "We soon realised it was feasible with a few developments in our mobile platforms."

As well as at Epicenter in Stockholm, Swedish company BioHax has also rolled out the microchip technology at Wisconsin company Three Square Market, which offers microchip implants to all of its workers. The microchips enable staff to make purchases and log into computers with the wave of a hand.

Other recent advances in biomechatronic technology – merging biology, mechanics and electronics – include a temporary tattoo-style sensor that can be comfortably worn for up to a week, and a series of embedded organic electronic components that can harmlessly dissolve into the body after use.