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Biometrics - News

Optical fingerprint sensors in smart phones paving way for biometrics comeback?

Semi-conductor-based technology has reached its limit in terms of resolution, thus the need for an optical sensor that can be embedded in a device

More fingerprint scanners being embedded into mid-range smart phones will
spur the growth in availability of mobile wallets

When Apple included a fingerprint scanner on the iPhone, everything changed in the biometrics market. What used to be exotic or even dubious instead became normal and everyday. Any negative connotations about biometrics were wiped away in an instant.

“Since the release of Apple’s Touch ID, and subsequent similar products from Samsung and other mobile device manufacturers, we have not seen any negativity; the opposite in fact,” says Robert Fee, Director of Sales, Access Control, Zwipe, whose access product is essentially a small, portable biometric scanner that can fit in your pocket.

Mobile payment services driving biometrics adoption

Pushing growth in biometrics adoption across all markets is greater adoption of biometric payment services such as Apply Pay and Samsung. A study from Juniper Research, Hampshire, U.K., finds that increased rollout of contactless payment services using fingerprint scanners will push the number of biometrically authenticated transactions to nearly 5 billion by 2019, up from less than 130 million in 2015.

At present, there are only two services that use fingerprint scanners for authentication – Apple Pay in the U.S. and U.K. and Samsung in the U.S. and South Korea. However, both services are expected to be launched in several additional markets in 2016, and the convenience of the scanner is likely to make it a primary mechanism for transaction authentication. More fingerprint scanners in mid-range smart phones will spur growth in availability of mobile wallets. Also contributing will be a growing acceptance of contactless infrastructure at the point of sale (POS).

Need for biometric data security & user privacy

Juniper Research also commented on the need for security of biometric data. “When a password or PIN is hacked, the consumer can simply get a replacement,” says Dr. Windsor Holden, research author of the Juniper Research report. “When biometric data – fingerprint, iris, facial – is stolen, the consumer’s online identity could be irretrievably compromised.”

The number of biometrically authenticated transactions will push to nearly 5 billion by 2019, up from less than 130 million in 2015

Biometrics has been ready for “prime time” for five years or more, says Jason Chaikin, President of biometric company Vkansee, which specialises in fingerprint capture for payment, data and other sectors, including physical access control. Apple’s incorporation of biometrics on the iPhone has created a real-life use case and a resulting “buzz” that will open the door to many other biometrics uses, he says.

Privacy has been a key point both driving and inhibiting biometrics, he adds. “The issue with privacy is that you are only as strong as your weakest link,” says Chaikin, and security must extend to the every step of the process, from how the biometric is captured to how biometrics are stored and transferred, requiring encryption at every stage.

Vkansee miniature optical fingerprint sensor

Vkansee has developed a new sensor that could be used on a smart phone or any number of other devices. The smaller 2-millimetre optical fingerprint sensor, in effect, takes a photo of the finger for more accurate and reliable fingerprint authentication. Previously, optical fingerprint sensors such as those used by governments and civil authorities worldwide, have been larger – about 2x2 inches – too big to be used in embedded devices, for example. By miniaturising the familiar technology, Vkansee is paving the way for its greater use in smart phones, computers, tablets, automobiles, and physical access control. The small module can be mounted under a device’s glass screen so it’s not as susceptible to environmental elements. Currently the product is on the third run of pre-production samples; it will go into full production in 2016.

In contrast, the capacitive sensors currently embedded in mobile phones and other devices emit a small amount of electricity and then measure how much of it is returned to the sensor – more from ridges in a fingerprint than from valleys – to build a map of the fingerprint. Users must touch the sensor directly. Manufacturers of sensors installed in today’s mobile devices include Fingerprint Cards AB (FPC), Sweden, and Synaptics, Santa Clara, California. Chaikin contends semi-conductor-based technology has reached its limit in terms of resolution, thus the need for an optical sensor that can be embedded in a device. 

Smart phones with finger readers, improvements in biometric technology and reduction in cost are driving the biometric trend
(see bigger image)
Vkansee created a fingerprint optical sensor to address the limits met by
semi-conductor-based technology in terms of resolution

Vkansee’s new, miniaturised optical sensors are priced comparable to capacitive scanners, and have 2,000 pixel per inch resolution to capture “Level 3 details,” such as sweat pores and the shapes of fingerprint ridges. A byproduct of the greater resolution is to make it more difficult to fool the reader with a molded fake fingerprint. Beginning in 2016, smart phone and other device companies – including electronic access control companies – will be evaluating the Vkansee sensor with an eye toward embedding it into a variety of devices.

“As the size of sensor gets smaller, it becomes important to be able to see deeply in the finger to get an accurate identification even on a small sensor,” says Chaikin.

Speed, accuracy and convenience

SRI International’s latest generation of biometrics products is following the trajectory of the evolution of mobile phones from a single-purpose device to today’s multi-function smart phone. “Just as we now expect smartphones to do a lot more than support voice calling, our offerings are using the speed, accuracy and convenience of biometrics to converge security and operations for enterprise workflows,” says Steve Perna, Executive Director, Products and Solutions Division, SRI International.

 “In years past, both customers and installers of biometrics were disappointed with the broken promises of what biometric technology could deliver,” says Larry Reed, CEO, ZKAccess. “Yes, today’s sales of biometrics are hampered.”

But he adds that biometrics is making a big comeback. Driving the trend is the proliferation of smart phones with built-in finger readers (and soon-to-be face readers), improvements in biometric technology, reduction in the cost of biometrics.

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