BiometricsFujitsu promotes palm vein biometrics in U.S.

Published 2 July 2008

Palm vein architecture biometric technology is wide-spread in Asia, especially in Japan, where many banks use it in their ATMs; one reason for the popularity of the system in Japan is the stronger association made in Japanese culture between fingerprinting and criminality; Fujitsu believes other reasons — the fact, for example, that fingerprinting is not suitable for about 8 percent of the population — offer opportunities in the U.S. for its technology

This is a follow-on on a story we wrote yesterday about a U.S. national health care provider adopting palm vein architecture biometric technology for verifying the identiy of patients and staff. Indeed, Fox News’s Lamont Wood writes that the future of biometrics involves scanning palms — at least, this is the message from Fujitsu Computer Products of America, which recently unveiled palm-scanning technology for the U.S. market. The technology is already in widespread use in Asia. Hiroko Naito, Fujitsu’s business development manager, said that the firm’s PalmSecure technology uses near-infrared scanning to identify people by the pattern of veins in their palms, which are as distinctive as fingerprints. “It’s a contactless device - you just hold your hand over the sensor, so it’s hygienic and easy to use,” Naito said. “We have heard so many times from customers that the reason they were hesitant about biometrics is that it could be intrusive.”

Scanning systems, offered by third parties using Fujitsu components and software, should retail for less than $1,000, she said. Geoffrey Turner, senior analyst at Forrester Research, said that fingerprint scanners are already deeply entrenched in the U.S. market, and that the scanners used by fingerprint systems are much smaller than palm scanners, making them more attractive for desktop use (Fujitsu says it has come out with a palm scanner built into a mouse). “The chief reason for the development of the palm scanner is that in Japan fingerprints are associated with criminality, so there is a strong cultural aversion to using fingerprint scanners,” Turner said. “And there is the question of hygiene, since people will be touching something. To make an impact here, palm scanning will have to overcome the strong head start that fingerprint swipes have.” Naito said that one of the major advantages that PalmSecure has over fingerprint scanners is that a significant percentage of the population — as high as 8 percent — cannot use them because of damaged or missing fingers. “Anyone can use our system,” she said. “If they have lost their hand they can do some other part of the body.” Turner shrugged. “If you don’t have even one finger left you really can’t use a keyboard,” he noted.

Speaking of amputations, the removal of body parts in order to fool a security scanner is a plot staple of grittier science-fiction movies, but Naito said that fooling a security system with an amputated body part should not be possible with palm scanning — or least, she did not think so. “As soon as the hand loses blood pressure the veins start changing shape, so it should not work,” she said. “But ethically we have not been able to test that, because it would involve cutting off someone’s hand for the before-and-after test.” The system, though, has been tested with corpses and found not to work, since the system must detect blood flowing through the veins (just how is a secret) before it will issue an authorization. This technology also prevents the system from being fooled with color photographs, Naito said.