LARGO, Florida - A trip down the school lunch line will be quicker for Pinellas students and staff this school year. "It's two seconds to buy a meal. Literally, two seconds," says Edward Rutenbeck, senior user support analyst with Pinellas Schools Food Services.
This school year, middle and high school students in Pinellas will be the first in the nation to use palm scanning technology to pay for lunch. Rutenbeck says, "This gives children more time to eat lunch instead of waiting in line with their trays. They put their hand down and they're done."
Staff will use it too and enrolling is easy. The program is also voluntary.
"We choose to enroll on the screen and chose a student's name. They place their hand on scanner, wait for two seconds, lift it up, and place it again for two more seconds," explains Rutenbeck.
The Fujitsu PalmSecure technology uses infrared light to read each student's and employee's unique vein pattern and ties it to their meal plan.
"It's a true identification. Who else is going to have a palm like mine?" says Sharon Ingram, a Pinellas School District secretary, just after being enrolled. District officials say the system also protects students from identity theft.
The palm scanning technology is not new to the Bay area. In 2008, BayCare Health System implemented the program and became the first in the state to register and track patients. It has used biometrics to register 610,000 patients.
"It was important for us to have a medical record that was continuous. If a patient had more than one visit, the clinical provider had information of that previous visit," says Candace Gray, director of Registration for BayCare Health System.
Cafeteria cashier Lisa Buis works at Largo High School where up to 1,000 students go through the lunch line in a day. Buis says she looks forward to the new system. "It's going to be smooth sailing."
The district has ordered 300 palm scanners at a cost of $120,000. The palm scanners will replace the district's finger imaging technology that was implemented in 2005. District officials say the finger imaging system has not been reliable. Since student fingers' made contact with the scanner, after a while the scanner would break down and would need to be replaced.
Students will not be touching the palm scanner, but they will hold their hands over a black box several inches away from the sensor. The contactless palm vein authentication is said to be hygienic and non-invasive.
Later this year, cafeteria workers will clock in and clock out using the palm scanners.
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