Is The World Ready For Biometrics?

Biometric technology has been in use for about two decades. It measures a person’s physical and behavioral characteristics, providing details that can be used to make more complete identifications. It can be used for access control, or to specifically identify who or what is trying to gain entrance to a facility or location. Common methods include facial recognition, retinal or iris scans, and fingerprint readings.

Biometric identification has become more reliable and easier to program and use. It integrates readily with other solutions, such as CCTV and video management systems. The general public is increasingly becoming accustomed to it. Users can be enrolled quickly in databases with less chance of false positives or false identifications. Because biometrics provide a higher level of identification and authentication, the technology is also less prone to cyber threats and malicious takeovers. It also offers faster throughput (access to the facility), better accuracy and falling price points.

Consumers crave convenience and functionality

Larry Reed, chief executive officer of ZKAccess LLC, Fairfield, N.J., said there seems to be a shift in biometric access-control deployment.

“In the past, biometrics were reserved for high-value asset locations only,” he said. “There was a mindset to use it only on specific doors, rather than throughout a facility. Now that biometrics is more cost effective and prevalent in society [as seen on many smartphone models], we are seeing biometrics deployed throughout the entire facility in some instances.”

As with any other new technology, the key is to thoroughly understand the environment for the application and implementation.

“With so many spy thrillers and science-fiction movies out in the theaters, sometimes it’s difficult for everyday consumers to decipher between fiction and reality,” Reed said. “If the consumer sees James Bond using a biometric reader for door access, the consumer tends to believe the technology exists and functions as seen in the movie and that it works with the same reliability. However, for biometrics to work [in reality], you need to thoroughly understand the environment in which biometrics will be installed … and, if you do your homework, it works wonderfully. Biometrics provides the highest level of both security and convenience [that] card readers can never match.

“However, in factories or businesses with dusty conditions, some biometric technology may not work as expected. Same thing with frigid outdoor environments or areas with too much sunlight, which are other examples of environments in which biometrics may not be effective. Security contractors need to learn how and where to deploy biometrics in order to have successful results and keep their customers happy,” he said.

Convenience is a determining factor in the mainstreaming of biometrics.

“If the power of convenience is great enough, you will see a definite shift in biometric adoption,” Reed said. “For instance, convenience demanded the integration of a fingerprint sensor in one’s smartphone so users no longer need to memorize their personal identification number [PIN] code to unlock their phone. Until convenience improves 10 times over, you’re not likely to see biometric readers installed on every door. However, we are moving in that direction. As mentioned, consumers are definitely becoming more aware of biometrics because of smartphones and laptops and will adopt biometrics when they can see it improving their lives. Nothing really changes until the consumer demands it.”

[SB]Until then, most contractors will continue limiting themselves to the tools they are most comfortable with, such as card readers.

Global research supports the overall growth of biometrics. According to research firm IHS, Englewood, Colo., global biometrics will rise from $278 million in 2015 to $412 million in 2019 and grow about 10 percent over the next few years. IHS cites the smartphone industry as driving biometrics use. According to the firm, fingerprint scanners in mobile devices and consumer familiarity with access-control devices may translate to greater adoption of biometrics in areas such as the workplace.

Biometrics Research Group Inc., at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., reported that the market for automated fingerprint identification systems and fingerprint biometric technologies account for the greatest share of the global biometrics market and is forecast to continue to be the main source of overall market revenues from 2015 to 2020.

Hot markets

In particular, certain vertical markets are driving biometrics use. Research by Biometrics Research Group stated that the financial sector has emerged as a primary end-user market for biometrics worldwide. Healthcare is also a significant market, where biometrics are used for access control, identification, workforce management and patient record storage. The report also notes that information technology (IT) consumerization will act as a catalyst for mainstreaming of biometric specifications.

It’s all about familiarity. Consumers accustomed to opening their phones with fingerprint recognition can see the ultimate convenience factor in other applications as well.

In the past, biometrics were selectively used in data centers, laboratories or other high-risk spaces. As it becomes more fully entrenched in the marketplace and prices continue to drop, widespread deployments throughout the enterprise will occur. New form factors are also emerging and may encourage greater adoption of the technology.

SRI Identity, a business line of SRI International in Menlo Park, Calif., recently introduced its Identity on the Move (IOM) access-control tablet for mainstream access-control applications. The tablet integrates an access-control reader, biometrics, keypad, intercom, camera and other capabilities in a seamless, cost-effective solution. The product was unveiled in March 2016 and entered the Security Industry Association’s New Product Showcase 2016.

Mark Clifton, president of products and solutions and vice president at SRI international, said the tablet “brings the convenience and capabilities of iris-recognition technology to mainstream access-control applications.”

The form factor is simple and recognizable, and the IOM access-control tablet can extend its usability into other data applications within the protected premises. Built on a scalable Android computing platform, the tablet can be used for human-resources applications such as time and attendance. It also permits two-way video communications, provides employee alerts and fosters scheduling without additional equipment. Because it’s a single, seamless device, it simplifies installation and support and reduces employee-training demands.

Wireless and portability are also within the realm of today’s biometrics. Anviz Global, Milpitas, Calif., a worldwide provider of biometric and radio-frequency identification (RFID) solutions, recently introduced the M Bio stand-alone optical fingerprint sensor module. The small form factor provides fingerprint data collection and authentication in a portable device.

Brian Fabio, director of global sales, said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) deploys the compact biometric reader in some airports to verify pilot credentials.

“It’s a mobile fingerprint and card identification terminal in one for dual credentialing applications,” Fabio said. 

The device offers optional Bluetooth communications.

Traditional cards may also be headed the direction of biometrics. Zwipe, Naperville, Ill., recently released Zwipe ID, a card with fingerprint authentication capabilities targeted toward the global access-control market, according to Kim Kristian Humborstad, chief executive officer.

The future is now

Zwipe ID technology is based on open global standards for RF interface and cryptographic methods.

“We believe biometrics has already become mainstream,” Humborstad said. “All the major mobile-device makers have fingerprint scanners on their products, and the rush to adopt biometrics in everything from banking to access control to government identification can be seen most every day.”

Zwipe ID includes an integrated biometric sensor and uses the company’s patent-pending biometric authentication technology to allow capture of the user’s fingerprint and to securely maintain the cardholder’s data directly on the device. The ability to harvest energy from already installed access-control eliminates the need for a battery and avoids costly reader replacement.

“Biometrics on card provides several distinctive and differentiating values that are not possible in other applications,” Humborstad said. “In the case of our products, having both the capture and match on card delivers an added layer of security, as the users’ biometric data never leaves the card. With several high-profile data breaches of external databases containing individual’s fingerprints, this product feature gives peace of mind to both end-users and card issuers. In the access-control industry, biometrics on card allows organizations to upgrade their systems to biometric almost overnight. Simply exchanging the standard access card with a biometric-on-card credential enables security contractors and integrators to offer an off-the-shelf biometric system with no need to rip and replace existing readers.”

Biometric authentication operates under the basic premise that individuals are unique and can be identified more fully by their physical characteristics. Today’s most convenient biometric modality is touch-free or facial recognition.

“That’s real convenience: unlocking a door by simply glancing into a camera,” Reed said. “Long-range facial recognition will be readily adopted as it allows quicker access to the building. I strongly believe accurate, reliable, fast-matching facial recognition will be the pivot-point in the global adoption of biometrics.”


About the Author

Deborah L. O'Mara

Freelance Writer

O’MARA writes about security, life safety and systems integration and is managing director of DLO Communications. She can be reached at or 773.414.3573.

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