Crazy French RFID travel card has built-in USB jack

Japanese train
French trains, like this Japanese one, are in with the RFID set

If the latest scheme to replace train tickets with RFID-based smartcards is to work, French railway chiefs must be hoping it doesn't fall foul of the privacy protesters currently having their say there.

In a trial scheduled to begin this autumn, SNCF plans to introduce a new smartcard with a couple of twists – one on the high-tech side, the other decidedly old school.

The cap fits

The first innovation in the Weneo RFID card supplied by Marseille firm Neowave will be an onboard USB jack that's protected by a thumb-drive-like plastic cap.

SNCF says this will allow passengers opting for the Weneo – it already has a plain-vanilla RFID card in service – to connect to a PC at home and securely top it up online.

Travel data too

Additionally, the public rail network's website will deliver updated timetable and fare information to the PC based on the locale data contained in the card.

During the trial, the 1,000 testers will also have to try out the second intriguing feature, which will see each card personalised with the user's photo.

Snap shut

Rather than some sort of high-end embossing technology or a hologram, the Weneo has a clear plastic window for a passport photo.

The user inserts a picture, snaps the window shut and leaves it there to prove they own the card. Trying to open the window and remove it simply destroys the photo.

Discount details

Identity is important as the Weneo contains not only straightforward cash balances but also information about each user that determines, among other things, whether they qualify for discount fares based on age or employment status.

All of which brings us back to that privacy issue we started on – with 4GB of memory, the Weneo offers plenty of scope for storing a lot more than just a student card and a few Euros.

J Mark Lytle was an International Editor for TechRadar, based out of Tokyo, who now works as a Script Editor, Consultant at NHK, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation. Writer, multi-platform journalist, all-round editorial and PR consultant with many years' experience as a professional writer, their bylines include CNN, Snap Media and IDG.