Startup: Fingerprint Breakthrough?

By Brian Rhodes, Published Apr 29, 2014, 12:00am EDT

A startup, IDAir, wants to read your fingerprints through thin air. While most fingerprint biometric readers force the user to press against a small plate, their reader is completely 'contact free' in use, which the company claims eliminates the risk of communicating sickness and disease. Here's their 30 second marketing demo:

How does this technology work, how much does it cost, and which systems does it work with? Moreover, how does it compare to traditional fingerprint technologies. We answer those questions inside this note.

New Biometric Method

IDair does not use traditional pattern recognition technology to verify fingerprints. Instead, it primarily uses a derivative of edge detection to precisely locate the features of a finger, using an access control reader the company calls 'ONEprint [link no longer available]'. While the company is mum on the exact details, the reading process essentially uses a high resolution camera, a high-intensity flash, a polarized exposure, and a rapid method of electronically marking points in several axis to measure fingerprints without actually making contact. The processed image is then compared to a library database of potential matches, or templates, to verify identity.

Why its Different

The main difference IDair's product offers over other fingerprint readers is that the user can be read without making contact with the reader:

Germ-Free: Some applications call for multiple credential factors for high-security, yet also are concerned at the potential of transferring diseases or bacteria through communal contact of a fingerprint scanner. Medical clinics, hospitals, labs, and research facilities all typically have a very strict protocol for handwashing, and may outlaw traditional fingerprint scanners or keypads over infection concerns. IDair mitigates this risk by never asking the user to touch a potentially dirty surface, lowering the danger in a sensitive facility.

Quick: IDair claims it can process users at a rate of one per second, which essentially places it about as fast as standard contact-style readers (ie: this example from Morpho claims 0.7 - 0.9 seconds). This means the technology can be used for high-cycle applications like access control or even time & attendance where throughput is critical.

Cost

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The closest 'access ready' design the company produces, the ONEprint costs about $2,000 per device, and will start shipping in May 2014. 

Integration Needed

Adopting ONEprint means some design work, primarily integrating the reader with a parent access application, will be required. While mockups with several access platforms have been done, the company offers no 'out of box integration' with any platform, and instead emphasizes its API [link no longer available]. 

The company tells us it plans to partner with several access platforms in the near future, and has prototyped a reader that includes a wiegand-protocol 13.56 MHz card reader, but has yet to formally introduce a product specifically for the physical access control market.

Applications

Given the fact IDair has no off-the-shelf ready to install in access systems, applications are limited. Even if tighter integrations are offered at current pricing ($2,000), the cost of the reader is likely to be on the high-end when compared to other fingerprint readers that typically range between $500 - $1500 each. The most natural market for the technology appears to be high-security medical research facilities due to the contactless operation, but given the extra integration effort needed, waiting until a more access-ready product is offered is prudent for most.

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