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THE SMART CARD GETS EVEN BRAINIER

SMART CARDS HAVE BEEN used for decades in Europe as a way to pay for phone calls or store health-care information. Many Americans are getting their first taste of the cards, which contain a tiny computer chip instead of a magnetic strip, allowing them to hold much more information. But they are about to get even brainier--and brawnier.

France's Gemplus Corp. has created the first smart card based on a 32-bit RISC microprocessor. To date, most smart cards have used 8-bit processors. The Gemplus card, called GemXpresso, also is designed to run Sun Microsystem Inc.'s Java software. That powerful combo means that this computer-on-a-card can do far more than today's single-purpose variety. For example, GemXpresso could be used to buy an airline ticket, store it in the chip, and track frequent-flyer points. It also paves the way for a so-called universal card, which might someday electronically store the entire contents of your pocket--cash, various IDs such as a driver's license, and even ''keys'' to the electronic lock at the office. One word of caution: Misplacing this card would be like losing your wallet.

EDITED BY PAUL M. ENG
Amy Cortese


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Updated Oct. 23, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1997, Bloomberg L.P.
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