Iris ID systems go mainstream

Iris recognition finally seems ready to break into the mainstream, particularly in banking and law enforcement, as prices drop and systems get easier to use.

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Banking by Eye

For Kamal Al-Bakri, who as general manager at Cairo Amman Bank oversaw the installation of an iris recognition system at 80 branches and 100 ATM locations in Jordan, fraud hasn't been an issue. "We've done more than a million transactions since 2009 with zero fraudulent transactions," he says. The bank recently upgraded to more-accurate dual-eye readers from IrisGuard in Buckinghamshire, England, "to sustain our position as a leader" as competing banks start to use similar technology, he adds.

In Amman, people must present a government ID when banking -- a driver's license isn't sufficient -- but not everyone remembers to bring their IDs when they make a trip to the bank. So Cairo Amman Bank gave its customers the option of registering with its iris recognition system and using it at both the teller window and at ATMs. Customers initially had concerns -- some wondered whether the system would somehow affect their eyes, for example -- so the bank issued a flier with answers to common questions. Today half of its customers use the technology.

The system isn't just more secure, Al-Bakri says; it's also more efficient. With iris recognition, the average time per transaction at the teller window is one minute versus four minutes using traditional authentication methods. As more customers opted for iris recognition, the bank found that it could reduce branch staffing levels from four tellers to two.

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 2 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 flights.

The system handles as many as 3,000 people per hour during peak times, and an average of 30,000 to 35,000 people each day. "It's very effective," Rees says. The airport just completed a revamp of the system, provided by HRS, 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."

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