Coming Soon: Wallets That Stop You From Overspending

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology counts among its famous alumni Richard P. Feynman (the physicist who helped develop the atom bomb), Paul R. Krugman (who won a 2008 Nobel Prize in economics), and Benjamin Netanyahu (the prime minister of Israel). Now an MIT team of researchers has turned its scientific mind toward a seemingly mundane device: the ordinary wallet.

So they’ve created the Proverbial Wallet. Actually, three of them.

“We have trouble controlling our consumer impulses,” says the MIT Media Lab team on its website. “When we pull a product off the shelf, do we know what our bank account balance is, or whether we’re over budget for the month? Our existing senses are inadequate to warn us.”

So these three prototype wallets warn you in very different ways…

The Bumblebee

The friendliest of the trio is the Bumblebee, which contains a tiny motor that vibrates whenever your bank processes a transaction. How does it know? The wallet connects via Bluetooth to your cellphone, then checks in with your bank. “The intensity of the vibration correlates to the amount of the transaction,” says the team’s report, “Tangible Interface for Financial Awareness” [PDF].

The Mother Bear

Instead of a motor, this wallet contains a small, strong hinge. As your bank account gets smaller, it gets stronger – making it difficult to open. “This concept uses a passive circuit at its heart,” reads the report. “A hinge has been made out of a motor that can be shorted, and the two leaves of the hinge are sown into the sides of a wallet. When the motor is shorted with a small switch, the hinge offers more resistance, making the wallet harder to open or close.”

The Peacock

After buzzing and locking down, what’s left? How about inflating? When you’re flush with cash, the wallet plumps up. When you’re a tad short, the wallet shrinks. “This concept uses a servo embedded in a wallet, which is commanded by a square wave of varying frequency to rotate its arm from parallel to perpendicular to the wallet surface,” MIT explains.

Sadly, none of these wallets are yet available for sale. But the MIT team has grand plans for taking its Proverbial Wallets to the sci-fi levels using “shape-memory metal” that wouldn’t require hinges and motors.

What will they think of next?

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