Alipay has launched a new payment system in the Beijing subway that uses sound waves to connect smartphones with vending machines. The sound wave payment system was introduced with the Alipay Wallet mobile app in January and uses white noise (link via Google Translate) generated by a smartphone to carry digital information to another device. Initially used for smartphone-to-smartphone transactions, the Beijing Subway launch marks the first time the system has been used with a payment kiosk for consumer transactions, according to Xinhua (link via Google Translate).
The sound wave technology are being applied to vending machines at two subway stations run by Beijing MTR Corporation (BJMTR) which sell soft drinks. The new system was launched in two stations on Line 4 of the Beijing subway last week and will expand to the rest of the line soon. To use the sound wave payment system, customers open the Alipay Wallet app on their handset while holding it close to a sensor on the vending machine, and wait for it to make a “shoo-shoo-shoo” noise. Wang Yu-ming, Alipay’s business development director, told Xinhua that each sound transmission is unique to the transaction and is only valid for five minutes because of security reasons (each transaction takes less than a minute). If the sound payment’s Beijing subway launch proves successful, the system could potentially be implemented in convenience stores, supermarkets, and department stores.
Though Alipay’s system is a novelty for consumers, it is not the first company that has used sound waves to transmit information. First launched in 2011, startup Naratte’s Zoosh tech enables mobile payments over ultrasonic sound waves.