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Growing use of biometrics and optoelectronics in building access systems

Biometrics, beyond fingerprinting, will drive the next generation of mobile and office security

When it comes to optoelectronics technology in today’s biometrics, a lot of attention has been on its role in security – particularly its use in access control systems, for instance, in industry or at immigration checks. 

Optoelectronics refers to technology that uses light, or optics, and electronics.

With increasing numbers of users managing sensitive transactions, such as online banking and shopping, on mobile devices, user authentication is becoming essential. 

While passwords are universally considered to be the weakest method of authentication, biometric methods for unlocking mobile devices – from fingerprint scanning to facial recognition or iris scan – are quickly growing in mainstream popularity.

Biometrics technology is largely considered to offer a high degree of security and is extremely user-friendly – but its success relies on the effective application of highly efficient optoelectronic components, designed specifically for security applications.

Unique human characteristics – including facial features, the pattern of the iris, palm veins or retinal blood vessels as well as voice, fingerprints, palm-prints, handwritten signatures and hand geometry – are identified by the security system (for example, utilizing infrared light-emitting diodes, cameras, and so on), and then compared with previously stored biometrical data of authorised users.

There has been a huge leap in developments in biometric identification technology based on infrared light-emitting diodes, spurred on by new possibilities to make buildings, devices and applications safer and more convenient to access.

Perfecting the security systems with all components required for such technology is crucial for the safety of all users.

Iris scanners, most commonly used for unlocking secure areas in buildings, are more reliable than fingerprint sensors. Even today, a look on the latest smartphones is enough to get the device ready for operation.

The iris of the eye is unique for each person, does not change with age and is not subject to external influences such as injury, and is therefore used for biometric identification.

The risk that the wrong person gains access – known as false acceptance – is as low as one in a million.

Many previous attempts to provide reliable iris scanning in mobile devices failed because of restrictions in terms of power consumption, space requirements and costs, meaning only one light-emitting diode could be used.

Scanners also need to be of a high quality, which means achieving a high level of contrast. But trends in miniaturisation and light source wavelengths of 810 nm have ensured that these challenges are being met.

2D facial recognition is another application of biometrical access control for mobile devices.

Like the iris-scan, it involves illuminating the user’s face with an infrared light source and capturing the image with an infrared camera.

The system then compares the image with the images previously stored for the purposes of identification, focusing on characteristic two-dimensional features.

Taking facial recognition one step further the first smartphone companies are now integrating 3D sensing into their devices.

A recent report anticipates that the value of the global infrared laser projector market for mobile 3D sensing is estimated to reach $1.9 billion in 2020.

To help its customers and partners to profit from the benefits the technology offers in various application fields, multinational lighting technology manufacturer Osram is complementing its portfolio of infrared technology for security applications with vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser solutions through the acquisition of the company Vixar.

Bright and uniform illumination of the user’s face or eyes is particularly important for iris or facial recognition and also for eye-tracking systems.

Osram Opto Semiconductors is one of the companies supplying technologies in this sector, and claims to be one of the leaders.

The company says that, based on its long-standing expertise in infrared illumination solutions, it has been developing a wide product portfolio dedicated to biometric identification.