Forget fingerprints: Your iris is your new identity

Iris recognition finally seems ready to break into the mainstream.

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Faster gates at Gatwick

Speed and ease of use were key reasons why Gatwick Airport in London added a passenger authentication system that uses iris recognition technology a little more than two years ago. The airport has a departure lounge where both international and domestic passengers congregate prior to boarding. "We had to ensure that people who are traveling domestically stick to their flights and don't swap tickets," says David Rees, IT program lead at the airport.

Now users scan their boarding passes at the security gate, and a video system on a "bio pole" tells them where to look as a camera takes a facial photo and an iris image from a distance of up to two meters (6.5 feet). Once the self-service process has completed, the gate opens automatically. The system then uses the iris data to authenticate passengers at each gate as they line up to board their respective planes.

The system handles as many as 3,000 people per hour during peak travel times, and an average of 30,000 to 35,000 people pass through the system each day. "It's very effective," Rees says. The airport just completed a revamp of the system, provided by Human Recognition Systems, integrating it with an enterprise service bus that exchanges data in real time with other systems used to check flights and passengers. "It's not just sticking some cameras onto a pole," he says. "There's a lot of infrastructure that needs to be in place."

The cost of cameras for an application like the one at Gatwick can range from $10,000 to $65,000. Gatwick's system uses AOptix InSight models, and the airport has 34 of them, says HRS's Norman.

"These are expensive cameras," Rees admits, but the airport needs high-quality equipment to capture images at a distance and process them quickly. The cameras include features such as optic mirrors that move to automatically accommodate people of different heights.

India ID program
This binocular-style iris imaging camera, from Crossmatch Technologies, requires the user to hold the camera directly in front of her eyes. Here the camera is being used as part of the world's largest iris-scanning deployment to date: The Unique Identification Project of India. A camera like this one sells for up to $2,000.

The trick with systems designed to capture iris images at a distance, Rees says, is to use techniques such as "dynamic signage" or flashing alerts to draw the user's attention to the camera, rather than just trying to solve image acquisition issues through improved optics or better algorithms. "By changing the way we call attention to the camera, we have increased the [iris image] acquisition success rate by 25%," he says.

The system works by automatically locating a passenger's face and capturing the iris pattern while the video offers simple instructions, such as "Please look up" and "Please stand still, thank you" and "Please proceed," according to Rees.

At Symantec, Meijer says the closer-range binocular-style cameras used in the latest version of its iris recognition system have also improved considerably. "Before, you had to manually adjust the mirrors to line up with your eye," he explains. "Now it remembers you when you scan your badge. It's more user-friendly."

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