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Nightmare on Smart Street

Jim Slater
Dr. John Gill
April 1995

1 The Scenario

You are seventy years old. For the last twenty years you have taken the bus the few blocks into town to go to the bank, do your shopping, change your library book. Your trips to town, where you are well known and can meet your friends over a drink, are your social lifeline, and the centre of your daily living.

One day, you step out into the street and wait at the bus stop, only to find that there has been a revolution that nobody told you about - the technocrats have taken command. The friendly bus conductor who used to help you aboard and who gave you the right change from your pension money has disappeared. With a swish of hydraulics the automatic bus door opens, and as you struggle up the step and greet the driver he says ‘sorry - you need a smart card now, I am not allowed to collect money’. Seeing your astonishment, he explains, with a superficial air of patience, that you have to buy a smart card from the post office in town, and says ‘didn’t you read the notice? - It has been at the bus stop for weeks.’ Getting down from the bus in a state of shock you fumble about to find the notice, but apart from a headline saying Smart Cards are Superior, your old eyes cannot make out the tiny print. You decide to telephone your daughter to ask what you should do next, and, having found a fiddly new ten pence coin you push your way into a new style telephone box where the wind whistles round your ankles and the rain splashes up from the ground. ‘Where is the slot for the coin?’, you think, wondering if your eyesight really is getting worse, but it slowly dawns that this is a new type of phone box, and you need a smart card to use it, and you read the notice that says ‘this phone only accepts cards - vandals note that there is no money box here’.

Seeing no other solution, you decide that you had better begin to walk into town, but after a while a passing neighbour offers you a lift, and drops you off outside the bank, where you go inside and try to join the queue at the counter where the nice young lady is generally so helpful. To your surprise, the cash desks have been replaced by office desks with smart-suited ‘business managers’ busy talking to clients, and from what you can overhear they all seem to be intent on selling insurance policies and mortgages, with the exception of one lady who is trying to keep the peace as an irate customer screams that twenty pounds for the bank manager to write a letter saying that she is overdrawn is ridiculous. After plucking up courage to approach one of these frightfully important-looking people, you are told that you must now get cash from one of the new Automatic teller Machines that line the wall where the counter used to be. You read the instructions with difficulty, struggle to find your bank card, and then push it into a non too well illuminated slot. The machine waits a few seconds and then spits the card out again, with a contemptuous bleep, and when you look at the screen it says, ‘card wrongly inserted’. You try again, but it takes three attempts before the machine accepts your card, and then the rather small screen display asks you to ‘insert PIN’. Resisting the temptation to stick a very large pin into the machine, you search in your handbag to find the piece of paper where you have written down your PIN number, carefully concealed amongst a list of telephone numbers, and as you search the list and are about to press the correct buttons the cash machine ejects your card with a spiteful ‘bleep-bleep’, and the screen display shows the words ‘timed out’, almost as though you had been playing a video game and lost. ‘At least a pin-ball machine would have given me a sporting chance’, you think, as with increasing frustration you start all over again, and do eventually manage to get some cash, and then cross the road to queue at the post office. You explain to the man at the counter that you need to buy a new smart card which will allow you to take a bus ride home. The man is ready to type your details onto the new card, but first asks for proof of identity - after all, you can’t have just anybody taking a bus ride these days! You will also need to buy two passport photos from the booth over on the other side of the post office, and no, it doesn’t take coins (vandalism, you know), and you will need a card.....

2 Terminal User Interfaces

Self-service terminals are being used by the general public for an increasing range of applications. The most sophisticated terminal in widespread use is the Automated teller Machine (ATM), but ticket selling machines for public transport now offer a bewildering number of choices to the user. To handle this increased number of choices, the terminal often incorporates a sophisticated interface which can cause problems for users who are elderly or have a disability. However some of these terminals give the potential for modifying the interface to meet the needs of the individual user.

To select a preferred interface, the user could simply press a button or select from a menu on the screen. However this is unlikely to find favour with service providers if it significantly increases the time taken to undertake the transaction, but it may be viable for simple operations such as increasing audio amplification on a public telephone. For applications such as a cash dispenser, the user’s preferences could be stored on a central computer and implemented as soon as the PIN (personal identification number) has been entered.

However another method would be to store the information on the card. With a magnetic stripe card there is very limited spare capacity for storing this information, but this method has been used successfully for storing the user’s preference for language (eg English or French). A smart card has fewer restrictions on storage capacity so appears to be ideal for this purpose, as long as some international standard is agreed for the coding of this information on the card.

3 What is a Smart Card?

A smart card is a credit card sized plastic card incorporating an integrated micro circuit. This circuit holds information in electronic form that can be easily, securely and accurately accessed by all sorts of terminals.

Smart cards are of three main types:

Memory only: often used as pre-payment cards for public telephones.

Microprocessor: this adds the possibility of incorporating security features for banking applications.

Contactless: eliminates the need to put the card in a reader which is useful for transport applications.

Smart cards are used in many countries in Europe for public telephones, customer loyalty systems, public transport, banking applications and for storing medical information. One European manufacturer produced over 200 million smart cards last year.

4 Preferred User Interface

In the ideal world, the user would be able to select and store their preferred interface anytime they use the card at a terminal. However practical constraints may restrict this choice to being at the time of issuing the card.

4.1 Preferred input

  • More time - this is particularly important for many elderly persons. On a public telephone, this could involve storing the number being dialled and then sending it at a press of function key.
  • Keyboard only - for instance, a blind person may prefer not to use a touchscreen.

4.2 Preferred operation

  • Reduced functionality - this is for limited use of the terminal such as automatically dialling a pre-stored number on a telephone card (a useful feature for some intellectually impaired persons).
  • Pre-set amount (for an ATM) - after entering the PIN, the cash dispenser would automatically issue say £100 (this is a mode which might be surprisingly popular among many elderly users).

4.3 Preferred output

  • Large characters on screen - this includes size of characters as well as foreground /background colours.
  • Audio - this can vary from beeps to indicate the acceptance of an instruction, to speech feedback on key pressed (but not for the PIN or password), to speech prompts, to speech output of information normally displayed on the screen. Speech prompts can usually be achieved by using stored speech which is inexpensive and of good audio quality; full vocabulary speech synthesis is of lower quality which may be unacceptable to the occasional older user.
  • For audio systems such as the telephone, it would be desirable to be able to select the amplification for each frequency band - this would go some way towards compensating for a hearing loss in a particular frequency band.
  • Maximise use of icons - this may be desired by persons who are illiterate or who do not understand any of the languages available on that terminal.
  • Braille display - these are expensive (adding a few thousand pounds to the cost of a cash dispenser) and it is estimated that only 19,000 people can read Braille in the UK. However there may be some special application areas where the cost is justified.

4.4 Contactless

A contactless card requires no physical insertion in a reader - this would help people in wheelchairs who cannot reach the slot for the card reader, those with hand tremor or arthritis, and blind persons.

5 The SATURN Project

Aptly entitled Smart Card and Terminal Usability Requirements and Needs, the project first of all attempts to discover exactly what difficulties users are likely to have, and the user requirements which must be satisfied if they are to be able to use such equipment. This TIDE project started in February 1994 and will run for three years. It will:

Study user requirements

Examine technical possibilities

Design & build prototype smart cards

Design & build prototype terminal

Evaluate adapted cards and terminals

Achieve European standardisation

Propose legislation

Publicise the research

The SATURN Project partners are:

AT&T Global Information Solutions

Gemplus Card International

Human Factors Solutions

ICL Financial Terminals AB

ICL Payment Security AB

Royal National Institute of the Blind

telia AB

University of Hertfordshire

6 Conclusion

A major strength of the Saturn project is that the partners include major manufacturers of both terminals and smart cards. Their involvement will enable the project team to build and field-test prototype terminals and smart cards, allowing the performance of this equipment to be evaluated by the target user groups. Any necessary changes will then be incorporated into the system, and the experience that results from the Saturn project will be available to all manufacturers of smart cards and terminals, enabling new generations of such equipment to be truly ‘designed for all’. If the Saturn project succeeds in its aims, then you and I, as well as those who are disabled and elderly, will find that the introduction of smart cards into all areas of our lives will go like a dream, rather than providing the nightmare scenario with which we began.


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