MIT students create Sesame Ring to replace MBTA CharlieCard

Chris Benson shows off his creation which allows you to use the ring as a charlie card and pay for the MBTA. PHOTO BY NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METRO
Chris Benson shows off his invention, which can be used as a CharlieCard.
Credit: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro

You’ve lived it a hundred times: The train is barreling into the station but you can’t find your CharlieCard. Sure enough, it appears after a minute or two of fumbling through your purse or pockets, but at that point you’re late, you’re cranky, and you’ve probably spilled some coffee. 

Scenarios like this inspired the creators of the Sesame Ring, a waterproof 3D-printed gadget that lets people enter the MBTA with a fist bump of the fare gate.

The ring contains the same chip found in the T’s smart cards, and value is added to the ring just like a CharlieCard: The ring is activated by tapping it against MBTA machines.

“It looks like magic, hence the name. We have gotten a lot of positive reaction, mostly amazement,” said 24-year-old Chris Benson, a PhD student at MIT.

Benson spent the summer advising ring creators Olivia Seow, 22, and Edward Tiong, 23, the engineering and design undergrads behind Ring Theory.

With nine days to go, the trio has blown past their Kickstarter goal of $5,000. As of Tuesday, 600 people had pledged $14,307. For $20, pledges get the signature ring. Customized rings are offered for higher pledges.

The ring’s face design was inspired by the MIT Brass Rat, according to Benson.

The team met with MBTA officials this summer to discuss the project. Although they technically don’t need the T’s approval, Tiong said they were pleased to get positive feedback from transit officials.

“It was very surprising; they were really open about this project from the start,” he said.

When asked for comment on the rings, MBTA general manager Beverly Scott said the T “is always supportive of innovative ideas that encourage more use of public transportation.”

Seow said the ring appeals not only to “technology geeks,” but to anyone who relies on public transportation. ”It’s fun to see people brought together by this common frustration. Everyone seems intrigued by this idea.”

The rings are compatible with monthly auto-renew. They will be shipped with the ID details as per the CharlieCard, so users can register them with the web service to receive automatic updates.

Production will begin this month, with the goal of getting rings shipped to backers by December.

Follow Morgan Rousseau on Twitter: @MetroMorgan
Follow Metro Boston on Twitter: @MetroBOS



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