People use mobile phones to take photos, play music and send text messages, and maybe soon to send money to relatives abroad.
That's the goal of a start-up company based in Rolling Meadows called aKos Technology Corp. and its founder, Daniel Csoka. By next summer, customers in the U.S. should be sending millions of dollars to Mexico via their cell phones, Csoka said.
In the system Csoka is building, a user could pay his money to the same store where he buys his prepaid phone minutes.
"Instead of paying $20 for prepaid minutes, he could pay $220, with the extra $200 going to his mother," Csoka said.
When the money is deposited, the phone user gets a transaction number and password that he can give to his mother when he calls her, Csoka said. The mother then gives the number and password along with her ID to a convenience store, which gives her the cash.
Banks in Mexico have established networks of local stores where people without bank accounts can go to pay bills with cash, Csoka said. These will be used for his money transference scheme.
"We're taking a lot of pieces that are already in place and putting them together into a new service," Csoka said. "The beauty of this is that people are already doing this, so we're not trying to get them to change their behavior much. Instead of going to a Western Union to send money, they just go to the same store where they prepay their phone service."
Transaction fees will be significantly less, he said.
"This is a market with huge potential," he said. "Transfers from the U.S. to Mexico totaled $24 billion last year, up 20 percent from 2005."
Csoka wants to launch the service next summer, targeting Mexico first and later expanding to other Latin American countries. Eventually, he hopes to expand to China and India.
His company has signed its first wireless carrier, Clear Talk Wireless, and hopes to have four or five others onboard before it starts operations. Clear Talk will target its customers in California and Arizona for the money-transfer service.
AKos Technology will handle all the back-office functions of the service, including the computer that keeps track of transactions, but the service's branding and marketing will be done by the prepaid wireless carriers, said Steve Richards, vice president for business development at aKos.
The privately held company, which has just five employees, has been working for a few years to put together the cash-transfer business and has found that getting regulatory clearances have been the most daunting hurdle to the project.
"You have to have federal approval in the U.S. as well as approvals in Mexico, and you also need approvals from every state where you have a customer residing," Csoka said. "It's a major barrier."
A CORN LATTE?: Would you like a little cream and sugar with that coffee? How about some corn or twigs?
As the price for premium coffee has soared, so has the practice of mixing in other stuff to stretch the product.
Traditionally, there's been no easy way to tell adulterated coffee from the pure stuff, but now scientists at Peoria's Agricultural Research Service, a laboratory of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, say they have a way to "fingerprint" corn in coffee.
Gulab Jham and colleagues at the lab tested several samples of Brazilian coffee with their techniques and found one that was almost 9 percent corn. The key to the testing involves looking for vitamin E in the coffee. Coffee doesn't have much of the vitamin, but corn does.
The research appeared in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
COMPUTER MASTER: By one measure at least, Chicagoan Ian Foster is among the three most influential computer scientists in the world.
Foster, director of the Computation Institute, which is a joint endeavor of the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, ranks third in an index that measures how many times someone's scholarly papers are cited. The measurement was listed in a recent issue of the journal Nature.
"It's nice to realize that when I write papers, people will read them, and that I have some influence," said Foster. "Presumably, my score represents the broad interest in the field."
Foster is sometimes known as "the father of grid computing," as a result of his pioneering efforts in that field.