Thanks to a Boy Wonder and His Computer Whiz Pals, the 'lifecard' Can Be Yours in Sickness and Health
06/03/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT
First there were the Social Security cards and the draft cards, then credit cards and now the ultimate plastic, the "LifeCard," designed to last as long as you do. Unveiled by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland last month, the waterproof, static-proof, magnetic-proof card holds up to 800 pages of personal medical history—epilepsy, diabetes, allergies, even X rays and electrocardiograms—all encoded and readable by laser technology and computers. In emergencies when a person is unable to speak for himself, Life-Card, which should be available in most states by 1987, is just what the doctor ordered.
That's good news and big bucks for LifeCard's software developers, a brain trust with a mean age just shy of 23, led by Douglas Becker, 19, a Baltimore-born computer whiz rejected by Harvard, Yale, and Princeton all in the same day. Accepted by the University of Pennsylvania, Douglas deferred enrollment in its premed program to pursue the LifeCard idea, sparked by his twin interests in medicine and computers. He recruited his brother Eric, 23, friend Steven Taslitz, 26, and computer buddy Chris Hoehn-Saric, 23, who all left promising jobs or college studies to work on the project. First they obtained user permission from Drexler Technology Corp., which owns the patent on the card's laser technology ("They had sort of patted us on the head and said, 'Good luck,' " Steve says). Then the young entrepreneurs hawked their programming concept to companies as diverse as Jiffy Lube car care service in Baltimore and the major car makers. "Most weren't receptive," Steve says, "except for Hyatt and Blue Cross." The latter pounced on the plan, lending office space and so far committing $3.5 million to the project. The young men continue to write and perfect the card's complicated computer program, which they began developing two years ago. "We didn't know we couldn't do something, so we just did it," says Eric.
Use of the LifeCard will be voluntary, says Blue Cross, which claims the card's medical data will be accessible only via a complex series of access codes. For the Becker brain trust, which will receive lifetime royalties for their innovative software, the only wallet stuffers they have to worry about now are the green ones that fit neatly in the billfold. "I fully expect to be a millionaire by the time I'm 25," says Doug. "I know it sounds arrogant, but 25 is a good time to be a millionaire."