I wrote way back in 2015 about the possibility of hacking the Opal Card and concluded it probably wasn’t worth the effort. Sydney bio-hacker Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow felt differently and went ahead and ripped a card to bits, took out the main parts, encased them in bio-compatible plastic and embedded the whole thing under his skin.
Now on one level I can only applaud Mr Meow-Meow and his audacity; but on another I can only shake my head.
First there’s a core problem that the blasted thing wont work properly. The Opal Card is not just an NFC chip: it’s a complex mechanism and requires a walloping great aerial to communicate with the reader. Mr Meow-Meow has apparently not implanted the aerial for obvious reasons, that’d be a lot of cutting, and so he gets at best a bodgy response requiring multiple swipes.
Second issue is that it’s an Opal Card. I do get the fun of being able to swipe your arm to make things happen – but that’s where you need a configurable chip. What happens when the Opal Card changes or, as is being threatened, Transport for NSW deactivates Mr Meo-Meow’s particular card? Then he’s got a self-inflicted growth to be removed.
The whole area of bio-hacking is fascinating, but it’s also not just metaphorically bleeding edge stuff. Cutting yourself to implant stuff requires a degree of fortitude which should be rewarded with commensurate results. Implants could well be the way of the future, but I’d be jumping in a different direction for the moment.
What we really need is for Transport for NSW to alter their model to allow for payment by a normal NFC chip. That would allow not only Mr Meow-Meow’s implant to work but, frankly more significantly, also for us non-augmented individuals to use a phone, credit card, or smart-watch to pay for trips.
That’s a change that’s a long way from bleeding edge stuff on every level. If we can get that change as a start, I’ll really appreciate Mr Meow-Moew’s sacrifice.