Among the most ambitious and important technology events at the Atlanta Olympics this month will be Visa's smart-card project--the first large-scale experiment with cash card technology in this country.
Visa will issue about 2 million cash cards, which, unlike traditional credit cards, each contain a microprocessor chip storing a specific cash value. The $10, $20, $50 and $100 cards can then be used at selected telephones, gas pumps, fast-food restaurants and movie theaters, with the purchase's value deducted from the card when the customer swipes it through a machine.
The use of cash cards as an alternative to grimy bills and clunky change has been touted for more than a decade as an efficient way to simplify many types of transactions. And it has begun to catch on overseas: More than 30 countries have programs underway that accept smart cards as a cash alternative, said Jerome Svigals, an electronic-banking consultant in Redwood City, Calif.
Visa, MasterCard and British-based Mondex are conducting global tests of both the cash card and a smart card that can hold many other kinds of information as well, such as health records and driver's license numbers.