Google is launching its Hands Free Payments app in the South Bay region of the San Francisco area, making it available on a test run at some McDonald's, Papa John's and other local restaurants.

The app uses Bluetooth Low Energy, WiFi and geolocation technologies to detect the presence of a consumer who has set up the app on an Android or iOS handset. The model somewhat resembles an approach attempted years ago by PayPal and Square. In both of those models, the user would have to use an app to "check in" at each merchant location, after which the merchant would be given access to the user's photo for authentication.

During setup, the Hands Free app requests a payment card to fund purchases, a selfie and the user's initials. At the store, the cashier verifies the shopper's identity using the photo and by asking for the user's initials; the consumer does not need to present the phone or open the app at that time.

In some locations, the Hands Free process may operate through the use of in-store cameras, which would take snapshots for identification but delete them after each use. When a purchase is completed, the Hands Free user will receive an instant notification on the phone.

Hands Free is not related to Android Pay, which Google launched as a streamlined version of its earlier mobile wallet, Google Wallet.

Since launching Android Pay last year, Google has averaged 1.5 million new registrations per month in the U.S., Pali Bhat, senior director for product management at Google stated in a post to the Google Commerce blog.

"At the same time, we also wanted to explore what the future of mobile payments could look like," Bhat wrote. "Imagine if you could rush through a drive-through without reaching for our wallet, or pick up a hot dog at the ballpark without fumbling to pass coins or your credit card to the cashier."

Such thoughts prompted Google to develop the pilot app of Hands Free, he said.

Merchants interested in offering Hands Free Payments after the testing period are being asked to fill out a form on the Google site to participate. Users will receive an updated list of stores accepting the payment method after the testing period ends.

Google is offering users $5 off their first purchase made using Hands Free Payments.

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