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Biomedicine

Vein Check

Fingerprint scanners may seem the ultimate in identification technology, but tricking them is actually not all that hard.

Fingerprint scanners may seem the ultimate in identification technology, but tricking them is actually not all that hard. Now, scanning the pattern of veins on the back of the hand promises a more reliable system.

Vein recognition is already used in South Korea and Japan to control access to secure rooms in hospitals, factories, and office buildings. System manufacturers say each person has a unique vein pattern, which can be captured by infrared cameras. The technology has been more widely accepted than fingerprinting in Asia mainly for cultural reasons, says Michelle Shen of ePolymath Consulting in Toronto. “In Japan, they are very concerned about hygiene. They’re reluctant with fingerprinting because they have to touch the sensor.” With vein recognition, users merely hold their hands up to a scanner.

A second generation of the technology is coming to North America. In 2003, Seoul, South Korea-based Techsphere, one of the first and largest vein recognition companies, signed a deal authorizing Toronto-based Identica to distribute its products in North America. Identica recently sold seven units to the Toronto and Ottawa airports to control ground crew admittance through doors. “Their hands aren’t always clean, and that would give false readings all the time with fingerprinting,” says Edward Foster, president and chief operating officer of Opus Canada, a flight services provider to the Toronto airport.

Vein recognition is so new to North America that there hasn’t yet been much independent testing of the technology, leading to skepticism from some experts. The adequacy of the approach has yet to be established through third-party testing, says Larry Hornak, director of the Center for Identification Technology Research at West Virginia University. But with more testing, perhaps more people will be checking their veins at the door.

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