Electronic Wallets Shrink With Your Spending

"Proverbial wallets" expand, shrink, buzz with bank transactions.

December 7, 2010, 11:54 AM

Dec. 7, 2010— -- It's a spendthrift's dream come true.

Convinced that consumers aren't in touch with their financial realities, an MIT designer has created a series of wallets to help you control what you spend.

One wallet, aptly named the "Bumblebee," buzzes each time your bank processes a transaction. Another, called "Mother bear" closely guards your money with a hinge that tightens as you approach your monthly spending limit. And the red-flecked "Peacock" actually shrinks and swells as you spend.

"I'm trying to balance my sense of humor with getting people's attention and making a point and doing something practical," said John Kestner, 34-year-old product designer who recently finished a graduate degree at MIT's Media Lab.

Kestner said he's actually more of a "cheapskate" than an over-spender himself, but added, "I don't feel like I'm in touch with the information I need to make my decisions."

For a class project a couple of years ago, Kestner said he developed early prototypes of the wallets with a few other students. He said the newest leather versions, which he completed with the help of an MIT undergraduate last year, are a significant step up.

Using Bluetooth technology, each of the wallets can communicate with a person's cell phone, which then connects to his bank account over a data connection. The phones receive text messages each time bank information changes, sending signals to the wallets to provide the tactile feedback.

Even though people can keep tabs on their spending with their cell phone, Kestner said that driving bank information to a consumer's wallet demands more attention.

"Phones are already overloaded," he said. "Does it mean anything now if your phone buzzes in yet another way?"

As of now, the wallets are just thought pieces, meant to convey a concept. But given the interest he's received since news of his smart wallets hit the blogosphere, Kestner said he might try to commercialize his products.

Designer Wants Wallets With 'a Little More Magic'

"We will do it if we get enough interest and we can figure out how to eliminate the technical problems," said. "I don't want it to feel like an electronic device, I want it to feel like a wallet with, maybe, just a little more magic."

Kestner said he's interested in streamlining the technology that communicates with the cell phone and hopes to develop electronic wallets that wouldn't even need to be charged. Now, he said, the battery-powered wallets need to be charged every few days.

And assuming the wallets actually do come to market, how much does Kestner think his high-tech greenback guardians might cost?

Definitely less than $100, he said.

"You can't charge too much for something that's supposed to help you save money," he said. "It would be irony if I convinced you that you need to buy this thing at a very high cost."

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