Plethora of options, innovations makes biometrics a field to watch

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Saturday, February 1, 2003

Even as industry observers and players point to the evolving use of biometric security technologies, the debate continues over which ones have gained or will gain the highest acceptance level and where the technology is headed.

Trevor Prout, director of marketing for the New York-based International Biometric Group, said different biometric solutions are appropriate for different applications.

Usage typically falls into two camps - those seeking a biometric related to physical access and those concerned about logical access.

Both Prout and Dale Duda, a Dallas-based senior consultant for Sandra Jones & Co., point to hand geometry as being the oldest and leading technology for physical access. Fingerprints, meanwhile, have worked well for logical access, Prout said, such as logging on to a PC or other information-related access control.

Joe Ganzi, president of SecureTech Solutions, entered the market about two years ago as an integrator, and said he has focused on fingerprint identification and iris scanning after checking out various biometric systems.

Fingerprint-related technology, he said, has been the most popular based on its price and people’s familiarity with fingerprinting as part of the law enforcement process.

Iris scanning, which is still more expensive, is gaining popularity, though, because of its accuracy level, Ganzi said.

Echoing comments made by others in the industry, Ganzi said he witnessed an attitude shift after the events of Sept. 11. “People’s fears (about invasion of privacy) were relaxed. They were more accepting if it helped the security of the country.”

However, Ganzi noted, the majority of the systems he sells - about 75 percent - are for time and attendance, not security-related access control.

Scott Sutton, owner and founder of Vizer Group, said among the different biometric technologies he offers as an integrator, fingerprint is the most affordable, “but I think the technology is the sketchiest.”

The development of ultrasound fingerprint should help with its accuracy, he said, and the price should be comparable with chip or optical-based technology.

Sutton said he promotes hand recognition as a “proven technology.” Fingerprint-related systems, based on people’s familiarity with them and the price, “gets them in the door,” but they are often then drawn to hand-reader technology because of its accuracy, he said.

Iris, he noted, “has a high, cool factor,” but some other technologies, such as voice recognition, “have a ways to go.”

Prout said facial recognition is a technology “uniquely for surveillance,” and concurs “it’s not as proven for other uses.”

However, with voice recognition, he said, “it is stronger than most people think.” Improvements have allowed lower levels of false acceptances, he noted. Its use has been primarily geared toward passwords at large companies or for phone-initiated security such as calling a bank or brokerage house to access accounts.

Jim Miller, chairman and chief executive officer of ImageWare, said the integration of biometric identification with smart card technology is also advancing various technologies.

Everything from driver’s licenses to frequent traveler cards are combining the smart card and biometric security options such as fingerprint and iris scan, he said.

Cards, Miller said, “are a comfortable habit. We’ve all grown up with some kind of hard copy, physical identification document and it’s not going away anytime soon.”

Adding the biometric option to a card, he said, is a “familiar way to embody this new technology.”

Kevin Klein, standard products marketing manager for Motorola’s 32-bit embedded controller division, Austin, Texas, said modern integrated circuits have advanced biometric technology and put it at a price point that is allowing new players into the market.

“We try to provide ways for people who are new to biometrics to get started,” he said.

The requirements for an acceptable biometric system - accuracy, reliability, speed and inexpensiveness - is aided by the new processors, he added. Motorola, which launched a fingerprint biometric reference design in November, views biometrics as a small, but growing part of its overall security segment, Klein said.

And while the company has focused on fingerprint access control, Klein said its reference design could apply to other biometric systems. “You never know who will pick it up,” he added.

Along those same lines, IBG’s Prout said, “I definitely think there’s room for innovation in biometrics” and noted ongoing research into a number of new and existing technologies, including retinal scanning, gait recognition, odor recognition and ear biometrics.