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Long distance MAG strip reading?

Discussion in 'Beginner Electronics' started by Joe Webster, Apr 30, 2004.

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  1. Joe Webster

    Joe Webster Guest

    Hello everyone,

    I'm a long time computer-dork type who's dabbled w/ electronics his
    whole life. I've never really built any electronic circuit aside from those
    I had directions for, but I have an idea and I just wanted to get a idea of
    what direction I should head or avoid.

    This whole thing is long, the two questions are at the end. Any help is
    greatly appreciated.

    Here is the basic idea. I will have a magnetic strip reader (for reading
    credit-card type cards). I want to read the card, and send it over a wire
    over a long distance -- let's say 200 - 500ft to a PC to be processed by
    software. There will be many of these devices, but for the sake of this,
    let's say there will be 10 of these readers connected to the same PC.

    The goal is to make this as afordable as possible and scalable. Some
    setups might have 1-5 of these, others might have 100+ all connecting to 1
    or as few PC's a possible. Not expensive PC's, even a 286 would be enough.
    The ideal cost of each 'node' or 'module' (credit card and method to sent
    the data to the pc) would be $30/ea. But even $100/node would still be a big
    savings over the alternatives.

    The basic idea is to have these card scanners all connect to 1 PC. I
    would love to have the ability to have as many of these connected as
    possible ;) Whenever a card is scanned the device just sends the card
    information to the PC and that's it, the rest is done on the PC. Seems
    simple enough. The two problems are 1) Distance and 2) Having many
    connections.

    From what I can find, most mag card readers that scan the card and read
    the data come in 3 styles: USB, RS-232, and PS/2. Both USB and PS/2 have an
    issue over a great distance. PS/2 and RS-232 both have issues with it being
    hard (and costly) to have many of these type of connections gets complicated
    and costly, as well as limited (~18). USB and PS/2 have issues with limited
    abilities to determine which port they are coming from when you have many of
    them. I know there are RAW card scanners out there... but I don't know if
    that would help me.

    So then I thought of other standard PC connections that would work well
    with this. Ethernet came to mind. Ethernet is good up to 500-700ft, cheap,
    and you can have ALOT of them. So if I could combine an 'ethernet packet
    generating device' with one of the card readers (USB, PS/1 or RS-232), I'll
    need to create a packet and send it out.

    The way my brain works, I'll need some sort of low end CPU to generate
    this packet. I know I read about a x86 processor available w/ a programming
    language. I figured this might be a good use for it. Each 'module' would
    consist of:

    1) card reader
    2) way to read in the card data
    3) x86 processor
    4) way to build the packet
    5) ethernet-type device

    Question 1: I don't know what's out there, and just wanted to see if
    anyone might know of a place to start reading up on how feesable this all
    would be

    Question 2: Is there another way to send a credit card scan over a wire
    200-500ft?

    Thanks for the help,
    Joe Webster
     
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