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Biometrics emerges as rising star at Comdex

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DQW Bureau
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In the somber mood that engulfed the 2001 Comdex show in Las Vegas it was difficult to declare a clear winner in the search for a technology that grabbed the most

attention.

Before the show, most had expected the merging of hand-held organizers from Palm and Handspring with cellular telephone technology to be the hottest gadget at the show. But there are still too few companies today ready to market such devices and no one introduced a new product in that class at the show.

Bluetooth technology also tried for the claim of the show's hottest technology. But few technologies stay on Comdex's center stage two years in a row, and neither did Bluetooth. The technology had its coming-out party at last year's show and now the technology is showing up in scores of applications.

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Another wireless technology that showed promise at this year's Comdex were products based on the "802.11b" industry standard. Known as WiFi, the wireless networking standard allows computers to connect to one another and the Internet untethered. WiFi is expected to be incorporated in at least 71 percent of all wireless-access equipment shipped, up from a 42 percent share in 2000, according to the Allied Business Intelligence market research firm.

"From a user standpoint, there are only a certain amount of technologies that people can wrap their minds around at any one time, and 802.11b is the 800-pound gorilla in wireless today," said Chris LeTocq, an industry analyst at SageCircle in Los Altos.

Rather unexpectedly, this year's hottest "new" technology was biometrics with products designed to increase security in everything from PC access to entering a home or business. Biometrics products use an individual's unique identifiers such as a fingerprint or an eye scan to gain access to a computer, specific files, a network or a building.

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Conveniently, Comdex features a "Biometropolis Pavilion" where many different types of such solutions were easily found and evaluated. The interest in biometrics, which has been hanging around for several years as a niche technology, increased dramatically in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks.

Biometrics products did not generate anywhere near the level of hype and excitement generated by consumer and business computer technologies that have emerged at Comdex in years past, such as laptops, PDAs, hard disk drives, flat screens and CD-ROMs.

"There is a heightened awareness about security issues," said David Luizzi a consultant for the International Biometric Group.


The potential for widespread adoption of biometrics security appears considerable from the results of a recent survey that showed 55 percent of the people surveyed would be willing to share their fingerprint or eyeball identification to enter public or corporate buildings. And a majority of consumers are willing to share biometric information. Only 35 percent said they are concerned about sacrificing their privacy for better security.

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One of leaders in the field is SecuGen, which featured a large booth at which several of its OEM partners demonstrated their solutions based on SecuGen technology. SecuGen's facial recognition products are being tested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport to upgrade building security.

Other products shown in the Biometropolis included:

  • AcciMetrix, a startup, announced plans to market the "world's first biometrically secure gun holster" that won't release a gun except by the touch of the legitimate owner's fingerprint. The technology could prevent many accidental shootings when children play with guns left unattended by parents.
  • Siemens demonstrated an optical mouse that included a small thumb scanner on the left side of the unit. The computer will not operate unless a user whose thumb print is stored in the system's memory uses the mouse. For computer access, the mouse based thump scan appears a much simpler and less cumbersome and expensive solutions such as eye scans and voice recognition. Eye scanning can be invasive, and voice recognition won't work if you have a cold. Fingerprints are always consistent.
  • Sagem Morpho showed off its system that performs a fast "one to many" search in which a single fingerprint is checked against a database of as many as ten million fingerprints. Nearby Precise Biometrics offered a one-to-one match system in which users receive a card keyed to a specific fingerprint, and can only access the system when the card is inserted into a connected reader and the finger is also placed on the scanner at the same time.
  • Korea's LG Electronics introduced a new biometrics security system. The Iris Access 3000 captures and processes eye recognition in less than one second by using illuminated infrared light, which is safe for the eye. The identification process operates perfectly with eyeglasses and contact lenses from a distance of 3 to 10 inches.
  • Panasonic showed the use of the Panasonic Authenticam camera, which reads the user's iris instead of using a password for system logon.
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Eye scanning technology has suffered some set-back from reports that the laser scanning may lead to some residual physical damage in the eye when used frequently by people with certain eye sensitivities.

Newer digital systems have eliminated any such risks said officials at the Iridian booth where two such scanners were shown, including, a small mouse-size unit that attaches to a PC and a larger one used to open doors in high security areas.

Officials at all the booths said fears of criminals using their victims cut off fingers or eyes are unwarranted because they are based on Hollywood science-fiction rather than fact. A live finger is needed for access and few people would go that far.

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