Reading Irises from Cars?

By Brian Rhodes, Published Apr 14, 2013, 08:00pm EDT

What happens when you want to use biometrics at vehicle gates? In the past, this has meant staffing entry points with guards, and bringing readers to drivers inside their vehicles. However, SRI/Sarnoff demonstrated a new reader named 'IOM PassThru' at ISC West 2013 which they claim completely automates the process of reading irises, regardless of what type of vehicle the driver is sitting inside. Aside from a cool premise, does the IOM solve a real problem for access gates? In this note we examine.

Show Floor Demo

SRI/Sarnoff had a vehicle access gate mockup in their booth at ISC West, simulating a driver's side car door in proximity to the PassThru. In the short video below we captured at the exhibit, you can see the scanning process:

  • The user rolls down the window and touches the device at about eye level.
  • The reader adjusts its height and scans the user's face geometry / Iris location.
  • Then the system compares and authorizes as appropriate.

The process demonstrated was quite rapid, with the manufacturer claiming up to ten drivers per minute throughput:

Problem Statement

The product was developed to incorporate the 'enhanced security' of biometric iris scanning at vehicle gates, a traditional challenge for most scanners. Traditionally, two options were available:

  • Require the driver to exit their vehicle, scan, and then reenter their vehicle in order to drive through the gates.
  • Staff access points with guards who carry handheld readers to seated drivers, and scan biometrics on a manual basis.

The 'IOM PassThru' works with the driver seated behind the steering wheel, potentially speeding up the authentication process and making the operation autonomous. Notice in the image below, the IOM is roughly phone-booth sized to allow for a range of vehicles to use it, from low-riding sedans, to high-riding semi trucks. The unit's camera travels up or down to the proper height based on type of vehicle:

Product Details

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Aside from being useful with a wide range of vehicle traffic, other notable details include:

  • All Weather: While not formally 'IP rated', the reader is sealed against water and is intended to be deployed in a range of weather conditions, from extreme cold/ice to hot/dust environments. The enclosure is heated and cooled according to outside conditions, and the iris scanner will send alarms if the enclosure glass becomes too dirty to read through.
  • Windows Down: In order to scan irises properly, the driver's window must be rolled down. To ensure this happens for every driver, the user must touch the PassThru to initiate a read. The reader's push buttons are located at the general driver heights, and the unit's camera travels based on which set of buttons are pushed.
  • 'Sunglasses Proof': One of the most bold claims, albeit one that was not tested on the show floor, is that IOM can scan irises through sunglasses and does not require the driver to remove gloves or hats for use.
  • Weigand Outputs: Despite the intricate technology on the front-side, it is integrated with access control systems like any other generic reader, and can even be configured to use Weigand outputs to trigger gate access. This feature gives the IOM PassThru the ability to work with nearly any access system, of any type.

Because this parameter is not published, we asked the manufacturer 'how close' does the reader need to be to the driver for proper operation. While the person we spoke with did not know the specific range, he suggested that the reader should be mounted between 24" and 32" for the best result.

PassThru Cost

MSRP pricing is $47,000 USD for the standard PassThru reader. However, the final amount will vary based on design additions like backup power, keypad readers or video surveillance cameras.

Another key module not included in the base price is an 'enrollment scanner' costing ~$13,000. This handheld scanner allows for users to enroll their irises into the database from a remote location like a security office. Without this additional device, irises must be manually added from the PassThru reader itself.

The addition of an enrollment scanner brings the basic cost of the equipment to ~$60,000 for one reader, but does not include installation or access control integration costs.

While this is high compared to standard access readers, it potentially replaces tens of thousands of dollars in manned labor costs and could prove to offset salaries in less that a year's time.


The core value of the IOM PassThru is the addition of unmanned, biometric credentialed access at remote gate locations, potentially increasing the perimeter security of installations.


However, despite the impressive demo on the trade show floor, a number of observed and potential drawbacks exist:

  • Proximity: Because the driver must be within three feet of the scanner, vehicle/reader collisions are likely to happen. Whether it be simply clipping the unit with a mirror, or a more substantial vehicle impact , the unit is bound to be damaged during a typical deployment. While the risk can be somewhat mitigated by use of bollards, drivers will need to be trained on the proper use of the reader, and damage to equipment will be a high risk to the inattentive or uneducated.
  • Environment: Despite claims of operating in a range of difficult conditions, the manufacturer acknowledged that difficult lighting can penalize the reader's accuracy. For example, direct sunlight shining into the scanner can cause malfunction. While the manufacturer dismissed this as a trivial '10 minute each day issue', it is a tangible weakness for any access control reader, and a potential show stopper in adoption.

Ideal Markets

While the manufacturer claims PassThru is for 'anyone with access controlled vehicle gates', the cost and sophistication of the reader effectively limits it to high-security and government installations.

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