Waving goodbye to queues with your fingerprint?
01 October 2014 14:25 GMT

If properly implemented, contactless fingerprint scanners could resolve the queueing issues that have plagued other biometric authentication devices

Although numerous ground-breaking technologies were demonstrated on the exhibition floor at the Global Identity Summit last week in Tampa, contactless devices that capture fingerprints at speed perhaps had the biggest ‘wow’ factor.

Removing the need to physically touch scanners, the devices promise a potential solution to some big challenges facing many biometric-based authentication systems – such as speed of processing in high-traffic scenarios like transport hubs, offices and so on.

However, despite the promise, the development of contactless scanners also presents challenges. Devices must be able to allow for the random movements of the subject’s hand, and scanners must accommodate the various sizes, shapes, and conditions of fingers – as well as adhere to various fingerprinting standards to ensure compatability with previously stored fingerprint records.

In a crowd-pleasing demonstration in Tampa, Advanced Optical Systems organised an event that aimed to illustrate the speed with which its device could capture fingerprints. 

It wasn’t an official world record attempt - but the fact that its ANDI On-The-Go fingerprint reader scanned the fingerprints of more than 100 subjects in just two minutes likely raised eyebrows.

Following analysis, the firm said that 100% of the time its device had captured two or more usable fingerprints, while 90% of the time it captured all four.

Using optical light technology of the kind used by drones and the Hubble Space Telescope - AOS previously developed missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles - the ANDI is claimed to capture prints at 500 dpi, with CEO Richard L Hartman confirming that his firm was currently working on FBI certification.

He said that a new version in November would offer a smaller form factor and address issues such as fingers needing to be correctly spread to capture images.

Another contactless device being exhibited at GIS was biometrics firm Safran Morpho’s Finger On the Fly. This device, claims the firm, can capture images of a user’s four fingertips at 500 dpi from a single wave of the hand in less than a second. The company said Finger On the Fly also meets the challenges of wet and dry fingers and does not require a particular positioning of the hand/fingers.

Both the AOS and Morpho devices have the ability to capture fingerprints at walking speed. While the former appeared at the conference to be able to work at a higher throughput, the latter device offers a smaller form factor.

 “With no platens to clean, no ghosting, and no latent finger prints to remove and non-contact operation, ANDI On-The-Go changes the cost equation by making fingerprinting a simple operation,” AOS states. “Fingerprinting at walking speed may even mean no more long lines. Borders may become more accessible, while vigilance becomes more effective.”

But importantly, Morpho claims its Finger On The Fly scanner is able to compare users against existing standard flat and rolled fingerprint databases. Laurent Lambert, product manager at Morpho, confirmed to Planet Biometrics at the event that overcoming this was a major challenge in the product’s development.

This feature may prove crucial for any such device’s future use in criminal identification, as well as government and commercial applications.

A report released by the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs in February stated: “[W]et-ink and live scan databases are in wide use by the government, military, and law enforcement. A primary challenge to the adoption of CFP [contactless fingerprinting] technology is in providing and proving the capability be fully backwards compatible with these technologies”.

The same report says that because Morpho's Finger On the Fly uses fingerprints collected from a live scan device as the source to match against, that this "demonstrates the scanner’s potential interoperability with existing AFIS systems".

However, Advanced Optical Systems’ CEO Hartman was keen to point out that while ANDI is currently an acquisition device, “it can also connect to either AOS' matching system or other commercially available fingerprint matching systems”.

Lambert at Morpho said that it was good for the market to see two contactless devices making such a splash, because this would “reinforce the will behind such technology”.

Speed at a premium

There are other reasons why these devices were generating such interest – just earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate mentioned “screening at speed” as one of the key pillars of a future strategic focus.

“Non-invasive screening at speed will provide for comprehensive threat protection while adapting security to the pace of life rather than life to security. Whether screening people, baggage or cargo, unobtrusive technologies and improved processes will enable the seamless detection of threats while respecting privacy, with minimal impact to the speed of travel and the pace of commerce," wrote the S&T.

Despite the optimism over the devices’ speed, experts Planet Biometrics spoke to emphasized that their adoption will accelerate only if the vendors succeed in getting them certified and tested, just like the livescan capture devices – so-called 10-print scanners.

“Certification will assure adopting organizations about the fitness of the image they produce and equally importantly about the interoperability of the finger data extracted from these images with what has been extracted via traditional optical scanners,” said one industry expert.

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