BT bullish on iris identification technology

First it was the thumb or the finger, and soon it could be the eye that organisations will want for user authentication, transporting a technology that was once only real in a James Bond movie to a real-life corporate environment.

British Telecommunications (BT) has been working with IriScan in developing telecommunications applications for iris recognition technology, and it is currently exploring opportunities to bring this to market, said Maurice Gifford, senior research consultant, BT Laboratories.

Iris recognition systems use the unique marks of the human eye to validate identity, a technology that IriScan developed and specialises in.

The iris has in excess of 250 characteristics that are unique to each person, which is more than ten times the number of identifiers carried by a finger print, noted Gifford, adding that it is thus virtually impossible that a person's iris code would match another person's.

A video camera and close-up lens which sit inside an iris recognition unit, captures a still image of the eye which the computer then analyses and generates a unique code from the pattern in the iris, he explained.

Cataracts or a cut iris would not affect the identification process which can be completed in less than three seconds, he noted, and added that each eye takes up 256 bytes of storage capacity.

A portable eye recognition unit is estimated to cost about 75 UK pounds ($US121), and can be hooked up to devices such as a television set so it is only accessible by the parents, and not their children, he said. This form of biometrics authentication will also be available for Windows NT log-on "very soon," he revealed.

With iris scanning, employees will no longer need to remember various passwords and pin numbers, he said. Gifford added that BT Lab is also looking at extending this technology to include wireless devices and mobile equipment such as mobile phones.

BT predicts that this technology will be used for many applications from the identification of network users to car security and fast-tracking through passport control at ports and airports.

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