Trends in Japan

Iris Recognition to Make ATMs More Secure

JANUARY 29, 1997

Up to 99.99999999% Accuracy
Developers of advanced security systems that identify people by recognizing unique bodily features seem to be focusing on one human organ above all others: the iris. A major Japanese maker of computers and communications equipment, in partnership with a U.S. venture business, has just completed development of an experimental eye-reading system. The developers say its high degree of accuracy will bolster security if the technology is built into automated teller machines at banks and credit-card payment terminals. The iris regulates the amount of light entering the eye through its action on the pupil, which it surrounds like a circular curtain. Its surface is characterized by a complex array of stripes and tiny markings, which differ from person to person but do not change with age. These qualities make the iris ideal as an identifying feature in humans.

In the prototype system, a small camera is used to take a photo of the iris of the subject whose identity is to be checked in the future. This image is entered into the memory of a personal computer. For subsequent identification, the subject has only to look at the small camera. After a few seconds, a message appears on the PC screen confirming identification and naming the subject.

Because its patterning is more intricate than a fingerprint, the iris offers a vast amount of information as a basis for comparison. Drawing on repeated experimentation, the developers say that the rate of mistaken identification is only once per hundred thousand times with iris scanning, compared with once per thousand times with fingerprinting. If both irises are scanned, the error rate drops to one in 10 billion. With accuracy levels as high as this, the equipment is expected to find applications in all sorts of verification systems.

E-money Applications
The need for personal-identification technology has grown in tandem with the increased use of ATMs, credit cards, computer communications, and security systems at the entrances of apartment houses and elsewhere. And this need is expected to grow still more as electronic commerce via PCs and the Internet, and electronic money, are put to more extensive use in the near future. With this growth, the assurance of security through user- or client-identification systems will become extremely important.

To ensure the security of the many kinds of card-based payments, there is hardly any alternative currently to personal codes and membership numbers. If the card is lost through carelessness, theft, or other cause, it is impossible to prevent attempts to misuse it. According to police statistics, the cost of such crime was a whopping 1.2 billion yen (10.4 million dollars at 115 yen to the dollar) in 1995--and that is just the known total. For this reason, there have been wide-ranging research efforts into systems for identifying people, including those based on facial features, ear shapes, fingerprints, voiceprints, and even retinas. The development of this new system seems to have placed the iris at the top of this list.

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