Five questions with Escardgot’s Thomas Humphrey
We live in a world of cards – with several credit cards, debit cards, loyalty cards and gift cards filling up our wallets at any given time. This is where TI customer, Escardgot, comes to the rescue with their universal payment card and app. We recently asked their president and founder, Thomas Humphrey, to answer some questions about their product, the market and their relationship with TI.
TI: What is Escardgot HELIX?
HELIX is an electronic card that can emulate any magnetic stripe (MSD) card; such as debit, credit, loyalty and gift cards. The user scans and stores his cards on his smartphone using the HELIX app ahead of time, where they will stay until needed. At checkout, the user simply selects the card he wants to use for that transaction on his phone, which is sent to the HELIX card via Bluetooth, transforming it into his payment card allowing it to be swiped like normal.
A HELIX card provides a convenient way to have all your cards with you at all times, so that you do not miss savings or loyalty incentives. It also helps to optimize your shopping experience, by making offers available to you on-the-fly with the Helix app, so that you can always avail yourself of any available discounts, coupons or loyalty benefits. Not only will all of your cards be available at your fingertips from the app, but also you will be served offers that you might never have known of to provide optimal savings at the point-of-sale.
TI: What makes Escardgot HELIX stand out from its competitors?
The main distinguishing feature of the HELIX universal card is the capability of reprogramming its magnetic stripe to mimic the data stored on another card. The handful of startups with a universal card type product right now have found different ways of achieving this, leading to different complexities and capabilities of universal cards.
Some competitors have products that store a handful of cards on the universal card itself, only requiring a phone to scan in the actual MSD data. Their products usually have a button, or multiple buttons, to switch between payment cards. The HELIX card instead stores the data on a smart phone with the HELIX app, allowing an unlimited amount of stored cards and a user interface that allows for organization and quick selection of cards. The account number is not persistent on the Helix card rendering it useless if stolen. Another feature that nobody else has at present is the HELIX card works with both Legacy Bluetooth and Bluetooth low energy 4.0. A benefit of Bluetooth is its wide availability, compared to the scarcer near field communications (NFC). The HELIX card has a rechargeable battery.
Additionally, while other players in the field are still patent-pending, Escardgot has two patents on its technology (US Patent: 8,313,037; US Patent: 8,376,239)
TI: There are many wireless connectivity technologies on the market. Why did you choose Bluetooth dual-mode?
We chose dual mode so we could reach the entire market, not just newer phones with Bluetooth low energy. Many people with smartphones that only offer Bluetooth would like to have a universal card but do not want to upgrade their phones.
TI: Why did you choose TI’s Bluetooth and microcontroller for your product?
We researched all of the Bluetooth and microcontroller chips currently manufactured. We narrowed down our selection to those that met our form factor needs. Texas Instruments immediately rose to the top of the list with their low power chips and willingness to help in the process. They provided reference designs and software that helped us jumpstart our development without costing us an arm and a leg. TI proceeded to go the extra mile by providing some samples from their own beta stock allowing us to continue testing without waiting weeks for a part.
TI: Where do you see your technology going in the next five years?
Within the payment card industry, today all you hear about is either “chip and pin” cards or NFC type mobile wallets. The mainstream players want you to believe that all other forms of payment will be going away quickly. That may be true over the long haul but it is not going to happen in the U.S. anytime soon, with over 1 billion MSD cards in circulation. There are thousands of legacy MSD readers at POS terminals everywhere and companies like Square have made the smartphone into a POS terminal. In addition, there is more to MSD cards then just the payment card industry – many other cards like loyalty, coupon, etc. will not be going to chip and pin or NFC – they will continue to need MSD readers.
Until NFC becomes so widespread that it is practical to use, universal cards will be a necessary accessory for mobile wallets. Even if 80% of merchants have POS terminals that accept NFC sometime in the next 5-10 years, as some are claiming, it is not practical to leave all of your cards at home. For instance, what if you want to buy a hot dog or a cup of coffee at a mom and pop shop that does not accept NFC, you will not be able to purchase anything. The HELIX card can be used anywhere that accepts credit or debit cards, immediately. The universal card is not necessarily threatened by NFC but is very possibly the exciting solution that we have all been looking for which can make the transition smoother to NFC.
For techies wanting to get their hands on a HELIX card before final release, there is a signup link on the front page of our website, www.escardgot.com. To keep up to date with development updates of the HELIX card, please visit our website, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
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