Swatch of Switzerland, the world's biggest watchmaker, has announced a collaboration with Schlumberger Smart Cards and Terminals to insert transaction chips into watches.

They would perform the same function as smart cards designed to work in close proximity to, but not touching, mass-transit turnstiles. Such contactless operation, using transponder technology similar to that of E-Z Pass highway toll systems, is seen as a prerequisite to handling massive customer volumes.

As a convenient, multipurpose alternative to plastic cards, the watch idea has been seized on before. Schlumberger's French smart card rival Gemplus in 1997 acquired SkiData of Austria, which developed contactless ticketing systems for ski lifts and had prototype watches produced by Swatch.

Schlumberger has demonstrated its Swatch capability in Tampere, Finland, where tourists can buy the watches and use them as substitutes for plastic bus passes.

The companies said they expect to work on other projects using Schlumberger's FastOS operating system and conforming to international technical standards such as ISO 14443A, the wireless protocol on which 90% of the world's contactless electronic ticketing systems are based.

Schlumberger said it is also prepared to accommodate airline ticketing and payment card standards to create multiple-service, "electronic passport" products in the watch format.

"Electronic ticketing is revolutionizing the way mass transit networks operate," said Jonas Andersson, Schlumberger's marketing manager for mass transit. The effort in Finland "builds on that success and demonstrates that smart card technology can be applied in highly innovative ways to speed and simplify commercial transactions."

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