Innovative technology pioneered by a Bangor company with help from Invest Northern Ireland, and piloted successfully at a Belfast grammar school, enables parents to pay for school lunches by post or credit card over the telephone.

Infineer, a global leader in cashless vending systems, teamed up with Belfast Royal Academy to test the latest generation ChipNet3 smartcard solution. The company’s existing ChipNet systems are widely used by colleges, schools and businesses worldwide in vending equipment ranging from canteen meals to photocopiers.

The original ChipNet system allows users to pay cash into a computer which staff use to ‘top up’ a smartcard which can then be used to purchase food or other items from vending equipment.

In addition, the new cards are also now being used by local authorities in London and Doncaster.

The new ChipNet3 technology, according to Colin Petrie, Infineer’s managing director, “removes cash completely from the canteen queue” and therefore helps avoid potential problems arising from carelessness.

“The new software that we’ve developed enables a central controlling computer to communicate electronically with vending points throughout a school or college without the need for special cabling required for current systems.

“Current smartcard systems require students to queue up at the school office to pay for their cards to be loaded with the essential cash value for transactions. Our new system eliminates both cash and queues by enabling parents either to post in or use credit cards by phone to authorise school staff to load the card. The student then simply tops up the monetary value of the card at any of the school vending points,” he added.

The new system was developed by the company with support from Invest NI’s Compete programme over a period of 16 months. Compete assists local companies to develop innovative products by investing in R&D.

Diarmuid McLean, Invest NI’s director of Research and Technology Development, said: “Infineer is a small company which has successfully established a strong international market position as an innovator in smartcard technology through a long-term commitment to R&D.

“It has harnessed the latest software and electronics in this new generation technology which has enormous global sales potential and will enhance its reputation as a highly competitive and innovation-driven industry leader,” he added.

ChipNet3 is now also being used in Newham Council in London as part of the Transport for London “Oyster Card” which will be rolled out across the capital for a variety of uses as well as buses and the Tube.

Another national scheme to recognise the power of ChipNet3 is the ‘Connexions Card’ project. This scheme is aimed at 2.5 million 16-18 year olds who stay in Further Education. The first sites utilising ChipNet3 and the Connexion card have now gone live in Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council.