Chicago's futures exchanges are about to hurdle a milestone as they prepare to test hand-held electronic trading cards on Wednesday that will revolutionize the futures industry and help monitor market activity.

The test of the automated data input terminal (AUDIT) at the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) will be the first in actual trading.AUDIT, which utilizes infrared light to transmit data, will enable the exchanges to record automatically the times of trades and other information that will enhance each exchange's surveillance capabilities without interfering with timing. "We're on the cutting edge," said William Brodsky, CME president, "AUDIT will immediately tell if there is an error."

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's uncovering of trading fraud in 1989 prompted the exchanges to improve their procedures for recording and monitoring trades.

According to exchange officials, the state-of-the-art system, which has a price tag of about $6 million, will provide a 100 percent tamper-proof audit trail, recording each transaction within 500 milliseconds.

It surpasses the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's (CFTC) standard for tracking trades to within 60 seconds.

"The commission is pleased with the work done by the exchanges to date," a CFTC spokesman said. "We're hopeful the system will do what the exchanges say it will. If it does, it will provide a better audit trail. A better audit trail holds more appeal for all segments of the market."

After nearly two-years, the exchanges have pared to three from 53, the vendors vying to supply prototypes. Those three include Spectrix Inc., Nynerdyne Inc. and Texas Instruments.

"We'll take it to the floor, and what works best is what we'll pick," said CBOT's first vice chairman, Dale Lorenzen, of testing in the CBOT wheat pit and the CME marks pit.

The Spectrix unit, the first to be tested during trading hours, uses a touchpad screen. The Synerdyne unit employs handprint recognition and converts the user's handwriting into block letters within 80 milliseconds. The third unit, from Texas Instruments, utilizes a touchpad screen and handprint.

"Spectrix seems to be the most reliable," said Jeremy Perlow, a local trader who volunteered to attend classes on the usage of the system and then to test the prototypes. "It has the greatest reliability working with (the AUDIT antenna system suspended above the trading floor)."

But Mr. Perlow, like others involved in mock trading sessions, had doubts about the technology, calling it time-consuming.

"It takes five or six commands to edit something in the quick mode," said Peter Dennen, another local trader.

According to Mr. Perlow, traders lacking computer savvy may be left behind. "I'm at a disadvantage if I'm the only one using the new card or if there are only a few others (as will be the case Wednesday). But if everyone is using them, that's fair."

The exchanges expect all local traders to be using AUDIT by mid-1993, with full implementation expected about a year later.