Magnetic Stripe Reader for Activity and Attendance Tracking

Barcode scanner. NFC tapping. Database searching. These are some methods codeREADr has used to capture data. Now, we add one more function: magnetic stripe reader.

Why Swipe Magnetic Stripes?

Isn’t that an ”old’ technology? Yes, but they are widely used for student, employee, and membership IDs. They are also popular in the realm of loyalty rewards and promotions.
One of our university clients wanted to track student attendance in class, study halls, and at extra-curricular activities. However, their student ID cards didn’t have barcodes. Instead, their student IDs were embedded with a magnetic stripe on the back of the card.
Since attendance tracking is one of the most popular applications for codeREADr, we decided to add reading mag-stripes as a data capture method.

The Shuttle Solution

After researching hardware options, we settled on ID TECH’s Shuttle. It’s a low cost, magnetic stripe reader that plugs directly  into the audio jack of smartphones and tablets. It can read the encrypted data embedded in credit cards but, importantly, it can also read the simple IDs typically used for student, employee, membership and loyalty cards.
The device can be purchased directly from ID TECH for under $50 and, unlike similar devices from payment providers such as Square and PayPal, the Shuttle can be purchased without committing to a payment application.

How Does Swiping Compare with Other Data Capture Types?

  • Scanning barcodes is the fastest capture method and the app user doesn’t need to hold the card to scan it.
  • Tapping NFC is not particularly fast (yet) but the app user doesn’t need to hold the NFC card to read it. Also, NFC tags can be more secure than barcodes.
  • Manual entry is slow but a good backup method in case the other methods fail.
  • Voice entry by name – or by the first few numbers of the ID – is surprisingly fast, especially when using an on-device database. The benefit with voice entry is that the card doesn’t need to have a barcode, NFC or mag stripe; all it needs is the printed name and/or an ID number. In fact, you could track & validate using any ID (e.g. a driver’s license, credit card, ticket or receipt).
  • Swiping a magstripe is fast and reasonably efficient, but there can be mis-reads which require swiping again. The app user needs to hold the card to swipe it unless the smartphone or tablet is mounted on a table or counter. When mounted, the card-holder can swipe the card themselves in the same way they swipe a credit card when paying for goods.