Integrators eye iris recognition once more

As prices plunge and technology is less invasive, integrators are interested in possibilities
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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

YARMOUTH, Maine—Iris recognition technology is highly reliable and it’s been available for years. But until recently, it’s also been high priced and a technology that some people are uncomfortable interacting with. As a result, iris recognition’s use in recent years has been limited to high-security locations such as hospital laboratories and data centers or niche applications where other biometrics, such as fingerprint, won’t work.

However, as prices plunge and the technology becomes less invasive, integrators are taking a second look at iris recognition. 

“Iris recognition is well on its way to mainstream security applications,” said Mark Clifton, VP of the Products and Services Division at Menlo Park, Calif.-based SRI International, a manufacturer of iris technology.

“It is simply becoming a standard similar to fingerprints now that the technology has evolved to a point that it is easy-to-use, non-intrusive, and fast,” he said. Clifton predicted that iris recognition “could transform the way businesses authenticate and secure people, property, and systems.”

Matthew Ladd, CEO and president of The Protection Bureau, a systems integrator based in Exton, Pa., said the biggest problem with iris scan “has always been price.” The second-biggest problem is that users in the past had to put their faces very close to the reader.

“There was an initial pushback from people who didn’t want to put their eye up to [the reader]. It was a like a mask and people didn’t like it,” Ladd said. 

Jim Coleman, president of Atlanta-based Operational Security Systems (OSS), concurred.  People want to keep their distance from an iris reader. “Psychologically, iris scanners scare people. [There was a fear that] it was a laser that could blind people,” he explained.

Iris reader manufacturers are well aware of user objections and are trumpeting the fact that newer devices can read irises from ten inches or much further away and some can read irises as people walk through a doorway or turnstile. 

John Nemorovsky, VP at Stanley CSS, based in Naperville, Ill., echoed Coleman and Ladd, and said the job of integrators now is to correct misunderstandings about the technology. People need to understand that “an iris reader is a camera, not a retina reader or some type of laser,” he said.

Just before ISC West, Stanley Security Solutions, the manufacturing arm of Stanley, announced a partnership with EyeLock (previously Hoyos), a provider of iris-based identity authentication solutions. Stanley CSS is installing the system, but other integrators can install EyeLock as well, through Stanley Security Solutions’ EyeLock Certified Dealer program. 

Blaine Frederick, Stanley Security Solutions global biometrics solutions leader, said that Stanley has installed the technology—which has some new, smaller form factors—in commercial applications where iris biometrics are not typically installed. Frederick has high hopes for EyeLock in the commercial space in the future. 

This kind of technology can “make our day-to-day lives easier,” he said. Frederick said it can be used to track kids getting on and off school buses, to provide access to office doors and “to enable access to an ATM in the future.”

Unlike a card or other credential, it cannot be lost or shared. Hygiene is not a concern, like it is with fingerprint or hand geometry biometrics. And “next to DNA, it’s the most unique biometric,” he said. “The iris is formed randomly rather than being tied to the genetic code … So your right eye is different from your left, the irises of identical twins are different; and if you were to be cloned the [clone's] irises would be different [from yours].” Irises also do not change as you age, he said.

The Protection Bureau’s Ladd has installed EyeLock at one customer site and has others who are interested. Before installing EyeLock at the customer site, Ladd gave EyeLock a test drive at The Protection Bureau’s central station. It has continued to test out well. 

“At the listed MSRP, the unit should be very affordable to customers,” he said. Ladd can see it becoming an attractive access control technology for more mainstream applications. “I could definitely sell it. It’s sexier [than other technology and] you don’t have to carry a card,” he said. 

It could take off, “as long as it could get people through the door fast enough, and it seems to be able to do that.”

SRI’s Mark Clifton, said integrator interest is growing. SRI is working with approximately 40 resellers/integrators in the domestic and international commercial security markets, with an additional 35 pending.

At press time, Clifton was getting ready for the September ASIS show where the newest version of SRI’s Iris on the Move PassPort walk-through system was to be demonstrated for the first time.

“SRI’s end-to-end Iris on the Move, or IOM, biometric product line enables dual-iris and face enrollment into a database and quickly performs highly accurate identity authentication,” he said.

The latest version of the PassPort product “is less than half of the original system price,” and SRI has a kit for “users to easily integrate our unique iris and face capture components directly into their own turnstiles, infrastructure, or entrances to minimize changes in existing operational procedures or hardware.”

SRI’s customer pool is getting more diverse. Major financial institutions use IOM products for employee access control and prisons use SRI’s systems for visitor and prisoner identity management. The systems have also been used at border crossings, Clifton said.  

“Large construction sites are using the IOM N-Glance system for time and attendance. We currently have several pilots running with Fortune100 companies for both access control on their corporate campuses and time and attendance,” he said. 

Another reason for the interest in iris is the fact that “there has been significant U.S. government adoption of iris as a biometric,” Clifton said.  He pointed out that iris has been added to the personal identity verification (PIV) card that grants access to federal facilities and information systems, as well as other government access control solutions.

SRI’s patented approach "freezes’ the subject’s motion enabling the simultaneous capture of both iris images while the user is in motion. IOM systems perform identity authentication in less than one second," Clifton said.  IOM also works in all lighting conditions, “inside or outdoors, regardless of time of day, sun position, or shadows.” This outdoor capability “further expands the possibilities of using iris recognition for security applications,” he said. 

Iris identity authentication can "replace passcodes, access cards, and guards to streamline and enhance the security process. Even in the consumer space, biometrics can be used to secure access to personal devices and information," Clifton said.

Above all else, the key to see mass adoption and implementation is ease of use, Clifton said. “It must be a seamless part of the user experience.”