A Retinal ID Scanner May Be Coming to Your Next New Smartphone

Biometrics appears to be the watchword of the season, and it may not be long before your smartphone or tablet features a state of the art retinal scanner to help protect you and your sensitive data. At this year’s Mobile World Congress two companies vied for the attention of industry insiders as they each unveiled their entry into the retinal ID scanning sweepstakes. Fujitsu and ZTE both claim to have developed a state of the art retinal scanner that fits comfortably inside a standard smartphone, and that they predict will make character based passwords a thing of the past.

The Next Step in Biometrics

Fingerprint ID scanners are already built into many laptops and smartphones, and people are slowly getting used to locking and unlocking their devices with the swipe of a finger. Fingerprint recognition is also beginning to find favour with some banks and retailers, who are offering it as an alternative to the character based passwords most customers currently depend on to verify transactions. But fingerprint ID verification has its limitations, and many security consultants and software developers want to take biometric security a step further. A number of different paths are being explored, including facial recognition software and even heart rate ID monitors. But the smart money is on retinal scanning as the next step in biometrics and smart phone security.

Fujitsu’s Iris Authentication

Fujitsu’s retina scanner was the first to be demoed at this year’s MWC, and the results were nothing short of impressive. Fujitsu’s retina scanner is still in the prototype stage, and the demonstration involved a peripheral scanner attached to a late model Android smartphone loaded with the necessary recognition software. An easy to use iris recognition app makes set up easy, and walks the user through the steps necessary to record their retina pattern. A custom made infrared LED light and camera is used to scan and map the user’s iris, a process that takes only a few seconds. After the iris map is recorded, it is the matter of a moment to lock or unlock the handset using the retinal scanner. The scanning technology works from a moderate distance, so the phone can be held at a comfortable distance from the user’s face. Fujitsu’s retinal scanner performed admirably, accurately detecting and authenticating retinal patterns from a distance, and while the subject was blinking or squinting. To put it simply, Fujitsu’s entry into retinal authentication was quite a success.

The ZTE Grand S3 – Retinal Scan Included

While Fujitsu’s demonstration consisted of a prototype scanner piggy backed onto a software ready Android handset, ZTE went a step further by unveiling the ZTE Grand S3. The Grand S3 is a market ready smartphone that features its own built in retinal scanner and authentication software. The handset itself is rather bulky, no doubt the result of the additional hardware required for the iris recognition tech. That being said, it’s a stylish enough handset. Unlike Fujitsu’s scanner, which uses a separate infrared camera to scan the subject’s retina, the Grand makes use of the handset’s native display. Unfortunately, in the final analysis, the ZTE Grand S3 didn’t quite deliver as promised. During the demonstration the Grand S3 was slow to map the subject’s retina patterns, and even slower to authenticate stored retinal patterns. Whether it was the bright lights in the exhibition hall or a flaw in the technology is hard to say, but Fujitsu’s demo clearly out-performed the ZTE Grand.

More Retina Scanners on the Way

Fujitsu and ZTE aren’t the only firms developing retina scanning tech for the next generation of smartphones. Microsoft is prepping the new Windows Hello feature to be included with the new Windows 10 operating system. Retinal scanning technology will also be built in to the firm’s new Lumia 940 line of handsets. Microsoft is marketing the feature as the next step in the evolution of smartphone security; predicting that retina authentication will replace PINs and passwords, and will be a more secure way to protect sensitive personal data.

The idea of unlocking your smartphone with a retina scan, or verifying a transaction with the blink of an eye, definitely captures the imagination. The question is, however, will the public adopt retinal scans, and other biometric passwords, as their preferred security measure? The technology is there, but is it a bridge too far? People do tend to stick with what they know, and while fingerprint ID scans have been around for a while now they have been slow to gain popular use, and retinal scans may suffer the same fate. But many security firms and software developers are banking on biometrics as the next step in digital security. It will be interesting to see if biometrics wins the day, and replaces the character based password.

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