Palm-scanning technology hits school lunchrooms

The new-wave lunch payments are well-received among patrons.

palm scan

Paying for school lunch is as easy as waving a hand for students in the Muscogee County School District in Columbus, Ga.

The district tested palm scanners in its high schools three years ago to see how well they would process meal payments. The results were so positive that school officials installed the $395 device in every cafeteria by last fall.

“We have 3,200 students in the district,” says Stephen Waters, nutrition applications analyst for the district. “Of those that eat a hot lunch, 98 to 99 percent use the palm scanner.”

While students treat the device as a toy, some parents were hesitant, expressing concerns about security and sanitation. It took some education to assuage them of their fears, says School Nutrition Director Susan Schlader.

Hand sanitizers are available near the machines, and students hover their palms over the screen rather than touching it. The scanners use the same near-infrared technology of a Nintendo Wii gaming system to take a high-resolution photograph of the distinct vein pattern just below a person’s skin. Each student’s digitized vein image is matched with his or her name, grade, homeroom teacher and student identification number. Lunches are charged to a student’s account, which parents manage online.

The accuracy of the scanners won parents over, Schlader says. “Very little data is stored through the scanner,” she says. “By scanning a palm, no child can use someone else’s identity.”

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