Imagine, for a minute, that you’re at the airport. Your plane was delayed a few hours, you missed your connecting flight, your phone battery is annoyingly low, and all you want to do is let your loved ones back home know you’ll be late while you pass the time watching your favorite TV shows on your laptop or tablet of choice. As you wander into the airport café, your eyes swing left to right like a pendulum. Past the mom with the crying kid, beyond the courteous fellow who feels his bag is more entitled to a seat than you are. You continue to search until you find it, a free power outlet unoccupied by anyone, only it isn’t free.
As if it isn’t laborious enough to find free — both in price and unoccupied — power sources in public places, Sony is in the process of developing new “smart” outlets that would be able to withhold electricity until it’s verified that you have paid for it.
Sony’s latest (read: not greatest) technology uses IC chips embedded directly into power outlets, which then attempt to authenticate anything that is plugged into them. After checking to see if a user has passed the proper authentication process (by paying) the plug can either grant access to power, or withhold it. The outlets that have IC chips built in are able to authenticate information, or could alternatively run through an NFC-enabled device or card.
To be fair, there are other – not so sinister — applications for Sony’s technology. The IC chips inside devices could be used to ward off possible theft by requiring identity verification each time the device is used. Still, the potential to hamper one of the most ubiquitous (and free) conveniences in modern society seems too great for businesses to pass up.
According to Sony, the technology is already underway in Japan and is being used with wireless mobile micro-payments. Of course the technology has a lot of potential to make business owners and those who run and administer public spaces a degree of money, but we can’t imagine people wanting to pay for access to electricity in public spaces like airports and cafes, we know we don’t.