One-Digit Digital Identity

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At first glance, the Token Ring looks like a piece of jewelry. Inside, however, it is packed with sensors, near-field communication capability, and technologies that identify the wearer to her electronic surroundings, allowing the wearer to open doors, pay for products, log into laptops, and much more.

All the credit cards, keys, and access badges carried by the typical modern consumer? One ring would replace them all.

“Our decision to make a ring was very thoughtful,” said Melanie Shapiro, CEO of Token, the company based in Rochester, N.Y., that is behind the ring. “We knew it had to be a wearable form factor because convenience is such a big part of what we were doing. For the security to be there it needed to have some kind of second factor authentication.”

That second factor involves a built-in fingerprint scanner.

“On the ring there’s a secure element that’s locked and only unlocked when an optical sensor senses that the ring is on your finger, and the fingerprint scan positively matches your fingerprint,” Shapiro said. “At that point, we communicate over both NFC and Bluetooth.”

The near-field communication, or NFC, capabilities are used for payments much like the iPhone’s Apple Pay system, while Bluetooth is used for tasks like unlocking. The optical sensor can even identify when the ring is off and lock the secure element.

Token is partnering with Visa and Mastercard for credit card payments and with New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to enable subway access via a ring swipe.

Engineering the Token Ring was a challenge, Shapiro said. A lot of functionality needed to be accounted when going through prototyping, and engineers and designers had to keep simplicity in mind to keep the technology hidden so the device wouldn’t be viewed as just another gadget. The company had to cram storage, battery, and other components to keep the ring independent of companion devices like smartphones.

Token found interesting and simplistic reuses for components like the accelerometer, whose motion features could be used to signal “intent,” and create an extra layer of security in the form of actions for certain tasks. For example, logging into a Windows laptop, unlocking a house door or opening a car door would require a double tap of the ring.

“We are working with such a small package that even just the physical space becomes a challenge,” Shapiro said. “We’re very lucky–we manufacture onshore and nearby. We have the ability to iterate, and iterate fairly quickly when we realize that something’s not working.” 

Reprinted from Mechanical Engineering magazine