Biometrics has gone beyond the realm of space-age applications. Now, and in the future, biometrics is a perfect fit with nearly every user in every market.

Pushed into becoming products for the masses partly because of price drops and technology advancements, it has become more and more common for users to deploy facial recognition, eye retinal/iris pattern, hand, fingerprint, voice and even other physical or behavioral characteristic-verification equipment to authenticate a person’s identity.

According to the International Biometric Group LLC, New York, and its Biometric Market Report 2003-2007, current global industry revenues of $601 million are expected to reach $4.04 billion by 2007, driven by large-scale public biometric deployments, the emergence of transactional revenue models and the adoption of standardized biometric infrastructures and data formats.

It’s a far cry from facial scan technology’s flashy and controversial debut at the 2003 Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, Fla. Since then, all agree that the technology works best when used to confirm or verify identity, instead of working the crowd for criminals.

In addition, the report cited that fingerprint-based technologies are projected to account for $467 million of revenues, the largest technology segment. According to the report’s “2003 Comparative Market Share by Technology,” statistics, finger-scan holds some 52 percent market share, with facial-scan racking up 11.4 and hand-scan 10 percent respectively. The rest of the market is held by iris-, voice-, signature- and keystroke-scan verification equipment.

Civil identification and PC/network access will lead biometric applications over the next five years, with nearly $2 billion in combined annual revenues expected by 2007. Physical access/time and attendance, will reach $245 million by 2004, with surveillance and screening applications projected to reach $49 million annually by that time as well. The government sector will be the leading biometric vertical market through 2007, second to travel and transportation.

Perhaps some of the attraction to finger-scan is its small size and non-obtrusive nature, but privacy concerns will continue to surface as civil libertarians and other groups wrestle with just how much is enough with this type of technology.

Layer security for best results

For security applications, biometrics is the next best step in the technological evolution of access control. Biometrics stand alone as a means of gaining or denying access to the protected premises, but further, and most importantly, present another layer of security. Layering or piggybacking products off one another is the best way to deploy security solutions, coupled with a careful analysis of what needs to be protected and why. Biometrics can create “safe” areas, or man traps, or help vary the levels of security present throughout a facility.

For example, your customer may have a sensitive computer room, main data frame room, surveillance center or other area which needs special attention. That may be the best way for the electrical contractor to begin to get involved in this burgeoning market.

If you’re looking for a specific vertical market in which biometrics is best deployed, there isn’t one. It’s in every market that these types of products can be used. New and emerging applications include:

• Deploying fingerprint identification along with credit and debit machines to provide secured transactions. There will be plenty of activity in this area in coming years as financial entities and commercial and retail businesses as well as others thwart the ever-growing area of identity theft.

• In service industries, such as with hand geometry and time/attendance functions, to prevent and eliminate “buddy-punching” or other means by employees to cover for each other.

• At secured computers, which may use eye-retinal scanning to verify accessibly to networks.

• At airports and seaports to check identities of millions of foreign visitors each year.

In fact, the United States recently announced that it will install fingerprint and photo identification equipment at some 115 airports and 14 seaports. This gives the facility the ability to know if a visitor is on a suspected terrorist list, and/or also provides current status information on visas to immigration officials. The equipment is scheduled to be deployed as of Jan. 5, 2004, according to Technology News magazine on Oct. 29.

Applications dictated by the Department of Homeland Security and Federal and local governments will continue to flourish, but applications in our everyday lives will also become more apparent, and again, the electrical contractor who can turnkey the installation will certainly reap the benefits.

Look for dual-biometric coverage, for example, combining facial and hand reader geometry, or more simply, locks with biometrics for added security. There’s no limit to what you can do, with a little knowledge of emerging technologies and how they might work for you and your customers. EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net.