Iris scanning enters mainstream market

‘Access cards can be forged, irises can’t’
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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

ROCK HILL, S.C.— Iris scanning technology is typically used by the government, the military and in hospitals. However, as prices have started to come down, the market for the technology is expanding to also include mainstream users, ranging from universities to your local gym.

Lower prices have made iris scanning technology attractive to more types of enterprises, said Bryan Alexander, a sales representative for Cranbury, N.J.-based Iris ID Systems, a supplier of the technology.

“We now have a number of health clubs using it, for example, not from a high security standpoint but for convenience. It’s being used for safety deposit boxes and in different markets that we haven’t seen before,” Alexander said.

The public being more accepting of the technology also helps, he said.

Winthrop University, located here, is one example of a new mainstream user of iris scanning technology.

After the shooting tragedy at the Newtown, Conn., elementary school late last year that left 20 students and six staff members dead, Winthrop put a renewed focus on security. It found iris-scanning technology to be the answer it was looking for.

“It was kind of like what happened after Virginia Tech. It changes your emphasis,” said James Hammond, vice president for information technology at the university, which has about 6,600 students. That was especially so, he said, because so many of Newtown victims were young children.

Winthrop has on its campus an early childhood laboratory school, which enrolls about 70 children at a time. It serves as a preschool and a kindergarten. University students who are education majors work at the site as part of their program.

“We were looking at it, and we realized that the kids were always supervised by adults, but what happens when an adult, some unauthorized, comes to pick one of them up? The adult has to leave the children unattended,” Hammond said.

Winthrop looked at fingerprint biometrics access-control systems, but didn’t like the idea of “touching” that could spread germs, Hammond said. Access control cards, which Winthrop has used and still uses in many areas, can get lost or might be stolen, and if a loss or theft hasn’t been reported, the card will still work, he said.

He and his team decided on technology from Iris ID, which is a spinoff of LG Electronics. “If it was good enough for the military and U.S. government, it was good enough for us,” he said. “We knew immediately that it was the type of technology we were looking for. It was the tightest, most secure, practical and affordable system we came across. Access cards can be forged, irises can’t.”

Manufacturer Iris ID sells directly to its partners. The partners range from integrators to security solution providers and a few technical distributors. Some partners include Tyco, Lenel, ColorID, Johnson Controls and SimplexGrinnell. Partners work directly with end users on final system configuration and planning, Alexander said.

Winthrop University bought the product from a nearby distributor, Hammond said. Then he and the three other members of the university’s IT department chose to integrate it themselves. “We couldn’t find an integrator to do it in our time frame. And we didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg,” he said. With the in-house expertise, he said, “we pulled it together in a matter of weeks.”

Testing of the iris-scan system this summer has been great, he said. So far about 1,600 students have signed up, and he expects many more will follow suit this fall. “College-age students are very accepting of technology,” he said.

Final implementation will occur this month, and Hammond expects to have another building using the system before September. He envisions expanding the system throughout the campus to include the chemistry building, gym and pool facility and the dining room, all places that “would be really nice to have touch-free method of access.”