For decades, biometric identification has been the province of high-security applications. Retinal reflection and hand geometry, for instance, are used to lock down top-secret government and financial facilities. Yet simple technologies like fingerprint recognition now can be found on cell phones and laptops.
Biometrics also are adding a new level of security to passport control, and they speed security checks for frequent flyers enrolled in registered traveler programs. I realized the technology was entering the vernacular when a colleague, a British national, mentioned that he had to run out for a biometric scan as part of his visa renewal process.
Still, biometrics hold unfulfilled promise for bringing security and convenience to our everyday lives. Think of the number of unique identifiers you carry on your key ring or in your wallet—not to mention all those PINs and passwords, which you should change frequently. Consider how much simpler life could be if you could just enroll your biometric IDs into all the access control systems that you use on a daily basis.
Imagine if your house keys and car keys were things of the past. When you get locked out, you wouldn't have to crawl through a basement window or try your luck guiding a coat hanger around your driver's side window! Imagine, too, how biometrics might add a level of differentiation to some of the products you're currently designing. In an era where identify theft and national security are burning issues, the time seems right for the widespread rollout of biometrics.
TECHNOLOGY ON OUR DOORSTEP
The quest for everyday biometric convenience—and easy system integration—is the market goal of Sequiam Biometrics. The company has developed the BioLock fingerprint-enabled deadbolt, a lock that's being marketed as the SmartScan by Black & Decker subsidiary Kwikset Corp (see figure).
The new biometric lock garnered a good bit of media attention during the International Home Builders Show in Orlando last month. While biometric door lock systems have been available for some time, the push from a leading U.S. lock manufacturer should help the technology make inroads with homebuilders and buyers.
The BioLock standalone reader and lock system uses a proximity sensor for finger detection, AuthenTec's "subdermal" print reader, and Analog Devices' Blackfin DSP. It performs biometric matching in less than one second. Sequiam handled the full design from concept to manufacturing, meeting Black & Decker's rigorous outdoor-environment testing.
Step-by-step installation and enrollment instructions make it easy for DIYers to set up the system. They include such helpful hints as a recommendation to create separate enrollments for at least two fingers "so lock access is not lost as a result of injury." The ability to enroll and un-enroll seems a great fit for families with latchkey kids prone to forgetting their keys. Also, the system is handy for enrolling repair or domestic workers, with the convenience of being able to "de-list" them after a project or work assignment ends.
Sequiam extends the home biometric concept to its BioVault, a safe for documents, jewelry, and other valuables that's also marketed by the National Rifle Association as a gun safety device. Other applications currently in development for its OEM customers include fingerprint readers in flash drives, ATMs, PDAs, and portable terminals for health and border security.
TECHNOLOGY ON YOUR WORKBENCH
Sequiam also is working to enlist designers in its quest to bring biometrics to the masses, offering tools to simplify the integration process. For example, Sequiam's BioTools kit uses ActiveX controls to bolt a biometric front end onto commercial or custom-written software. It includes Visual Basic and Delphi sample code and is ODBC-compliant (Open Database Connectivity) to allow integration with most database systems.
Sequiam's Universal Biometric Interface (UBI) offers OEMs an embedded biometric solution for new or existing products. The customizable reader includes a subdermal fingerprint scan with swipe and touch sensor options. It includes ADI's Blackfin DSP, battery or low-voltage power source options, and RS-232 and RS-485 outputs (www.sequiam.com).
But does home fingerprint recognition work as promised? If it fails, you could be right back to the break-in scenario. It does come with two backup keys, just in case. But I thought it would be interesting to check it out for myself, so I'm in the process of installing and testing a biometric lock on my door at home. I'll keep you posted when the results are in—and whether I'm crawling through the basement window again.