Google is testing truly hands-free payments

As many people like to smugly point out, contactless cards are not in fact contactless at all. We all just like calling them that because we fell for the marketing and PR, but also because it does make the technology seem more exciting – especially when it’s still a payment card.


True contactless?

However, we may have to come up with a different name for them as Google is now testing truly contactless ways of paying. The American giant is piloting a new payment app called Hands Free that allows users to pay for things without going into their wallets, instead all they have to say is that they will “pay with Google”.

“Imagine if you could rush through a drive-thru without reaching for your wallet, or pick up a hot dog at the ballpark without fumbling to pass coins or your credit card to the cashier. This prompted us to build a pilot app called Hands Free that we’re now in the early stages of testing. It lets you pay in stores quickly, easily, and completely hands-free,” the company said in a blogpost.


How it works

Once you’ve installed and set up the app, Hands Free uses Bluetooth low energy, Wi-Fi, and location services on your phone to detect whether you’re near a participating store. When you’re ready to pay, you can simply tell the cashier, “I’ll pay with Google.” The cashier will ask for your initials and use the picture you added to your Hands Free profile to confirm your identity.

Google also said that it is in the early stages of experimenting with visual identification. The process uses an in-store camera to automatically confirm your identity based on your Hands Free profile picture.


Hands Free is currently available on Android and iOS devices, but only in the San Francisco South Bay area. It is being accepted in select McDonald’s and Papa John’s.


If you can’t wait

If you are not lucky enough to live in the South Bay area and just cannot wait a moment longer for that truly hands free, contactless experience then do not fear, there are some places, more local, where you can enjoy it.

Over here in the UK, there is a startup called Droplet that has its own hands-free tech called Zero Touch. At last year’s Festival of Marketing, Steffan Aquarone, the founder of Droplet, made an argument that the future of payments shouldn’t actually involve payments at all. Radical. He said, “Innovation is about taking steps away” and making the processes more human.

Zero Touch works in places that users visit frequently, a local cafe for example, the merchant recognises the customer, inputs what the customer wants to buy and the money is automatically taken out of the user’s account. Obviously this works in fairly specific scenarios, but who doesn’t have a local coffee shop where they go every day?

The startup is currently live in eight UK cities, including London, Birmingham and Edinburgh.


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