Latest in biometrics is in vein

Fujitsu will start selling a biometric security device next month that relies on vein patterns in the hand to verify a user's identity, it said today.

The company's palm-vein recognition system has been available in Japan for just over a year and has already achieved some notable success. The Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, Japan's third-largest retail bank, began installing the system on its ATMs last October as a higher-security alternative to personal identification numbers. About half of the bank's 3,000 ATMs will have the system by September, and other major national and regional banks have also said they're adopting the system.

The palm-vein detector contains a camera that takes a picture of the palm of a user's hand. The image is then matched against a database as a means of verification. The camera works in the near-infrared range so veins present under the skin are visible, and a proprietary algorithm is used to help confirm identity. The system takes into account identifying features such as the number of veins, their position and the points at which they cross.

The result is a system that offers a higher level of security than competing technologies, including voice print, facial recognition, fingerprint recognition and iris scanning, according to Fujitsu. The company's claim is partly based on a real-life test it carried out that involved scanning the hands of 140,000 Fujitsu employees worldwide.

The palm-vein technology will be available from Fujitsu in three ways: The company will offer the sensor itself, it will offer a bundle of the sensor and its mPollux authentication software, and it will offer the technology through its system integrator companies direct to customers. An application programming interface will also be available that allows users to add support for the sensor to existing systems.

"Fujitsu is very much interested in our palm-based sensor [being] used as a PC or server log-in system," said Toshimitsu Kurosawa, manager of new business development at Fujitsu's Global Business Management unit. Thus the company will target PC and server vendors, he said. Other targets will be system integrators and vendors of specialist systems, like access-control companies or security companies.

The company hopes palm-vein based technology will account for a large part of Fujitsu's security business in the future and is projecting $728 million worth of orders in the next three years, said Kurosawa. It's hoping to attract about 10% of the high-end fingerprint market and 30% of both the iris and handprint security markets, he said.

Fujitsu showed the system at the CeBIT show, which took place in March in Hanover, Germany, and it received considerable interest, said Akira Kuroki, general manager of Fujitsu's Ubiquitous Systems Group. Visitors to the show particularly liked that the system can scan a hand without having to bring the hand into contact with the detector, he said. Similar sentiments have also been expressed by some Japanese users who consider devices like fingerprint scanners potentially unhygienic.

Pricing of the system was not disclosed.

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