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Visa helps Olympic athletes make payments using jewelery

The credit card company made a water-resistant, battery-free ring that athletes can test out at the games in Rio.

Sarah Tew/CNET

At the Olympics this August, athletes will be practicing in all kinds of biking, swimming or running gear. And those tight outfits don't leave a lot of room to carry a wallet.

With that in mind, Visa, a major sponsor of the Olympics, on Thursday revealed a ring that allows folks to make payments. The prototype, which can be used at NFC-powered payment terminals, will be given to the 45 athletes sponsored under Team Visa in hopes of testing out the new concept at the games in Rio de Janeiro.

"This is a device packed with all the security Visa provides that's small and not gaudy to wear," Chris Dean, senior director of Visa's innovation and strategic partnerships, said while showing off the device Thursday at a press event in Manhattan.

The ring, simply called the "Visa payment ring" for now, won't be commercially available and instead was created as a test case. It's among a handful of ideas Visa and other payments companies are developing as they try to uncover new ways for people to spend while using smartphones, smartwatches, cars and other devices. There are several other "smart" rings, including those from Ringly and Elppy, but most of these items are focused on providing notifications like new text messages, not enabling payments.

Demonstrating the new device Thursday, Dean showed how the Visa ring works essentially the same way as a smartphone or smartwatch does to make payments, with a user simply placing the ring above a point-of-sale machine.

The idea for a ring stemmed from Visa's conversations with athletes, who were looking for a payments device they didn't need to take on and off, didn't need to be charged and could even withstand a dip in a pool. To make that possible, the Visa device is made of a light, shiny ceramic and embedded with an antenna. It's water-resistant to a depth of 50 meters and doesn't need a battery; instead, it pulls in power from a point-of-sale machine when it's placed over it.

The ring will be connected to a prepaid Visa account, which can be reloaded online. If it's lost or stolen, the ring's account can be changed, the same way Visa closes out a stolen credit card number, Dean said. There's no specific price for the device, since it's now only a prototype.

This article also appears in Spanish. Read: Visa ayuda a los atletas olímpicos a pagar usando un anillo especial.