FotoNation buys Smart Sensors as iris recognition goes mobile
16 March 2015 11:35 GMT

Smart Sensors has been a real innovator in the iris recognition market

UK-based iris recognition firm Smart Sensors has been acquired by FotoNation, a provider of computational imaging solutions for smartphones and digital cameras. The deal has the potential to accelerate the development of iris-based biometric authentication solutions for mobile devices.

Founded in 2003 in Bath, England, Smart Sensors, led by founders Martin George and the late Professor Don Monro, developed a new set of iris biometric algorithms challenging the then dominant Daugman algorithms.

George told Planet Biometrics that his company has frequently white-badged its algorithms and technology over the years to enable its commercial partners to build iris biometric-based solutions as diverse as hands-free access control, military force protection, password replacement and refugee management.

FotoNation was the first firm to integrate a computational imaging solution in an embedded mobile device. It has seen demand for its computational imaging solutions explode amid the rising popularity of features like face detection, panoramas, and the burgeoning range of photo-improvement apps. Nearly two billion digital cameras and smart devices now use its imaging technologies and it now has a penetration of more than 60 percent of global tier-1 smartphones.

The purchase, which closed in the fourth quarter of 2014, raises the prospect of computational imaging techniques being adapted to iris biometrics. Implementation of iris recognition systems on mobiles is a difficult problem thanks to challenges such as a lack of processing power and memory, optics and lens design, not to mention the issues of illumination and the working environment. These are all areas where FotoNation should be able to bring significant expertise.

Smart Sensors' UK operation will continue as a wholly-owned subsidiary of FotoNation, providing its iris biometrics R&D arm.

FotoNation and Smart Sensors staff were bullish about prospects of the acquisition.

“FotoNation’s complementary expertise and technology portfolio, along with its strong relationships in the smartphone and camera markets, will help us accelerate the adoption of Smart Sensors' technology in high-volume applications,” said Martin George, general manager of Smart Sensors.

Petronel Bigioi, senior vice president of engineering and general manager, FotoNation, said: “The iris structure yields five times as many distinct, identifiable features compared to fingerprints."

“Smart Sensors’ team of PhD engineers has been focused on developing and improving iris-based biometric systems for over a decade. Integrating their capabilities with FotoNation’s face detection, tracking and recognition capacities will enable our customers to deliver unique solutions tailored for mobile devices and other high volume products, with exciting opportunities in the growing field of biometric authentication and identification.”

In January, Indian biometrics expert Nandan Nilekani predicted that budget smartphones using iris recognition could become an important authentication tool for his country’s biometric Aadhar unique ID number project.

Meanwhile, earlier this month Chinese firm ViewSonic revealed plans to debut a smartphone with iris recognition.