Real-World Biometrics

Biometric technology uses your unique characteristics (like fingerprints, iris and retina patterns, voice pitch, facial structure, hand geometry, and signature) to verify your identity. The technology isn’t quite as advanced or as accurate as Hollywood makes it out to be, but that doesn’t stop it from being used in a variety of interesting and practical ways.

Cell phones

Xvista, UK-based biometrics company has developed a portable iris scanning device that that can be implemented in cell phones and consumer electronics. By scanning your eye, the device can quickly enable your favorite settings. Other cell phone manufacturers are embedding fingerprint scanners: Use your index finger to speed-dial your mom, while your pinky calls up your latest squeeze.


No more digging around your purse or frantically searching the house looking for your car keys. Soon, you’ll also be able to unlock and start the ignition of your Audi, BMW, or Cadillac with only your fingerprint. Or, you can have a biometrics system installed in your current ride. Certain manufacturers even offer biometric wrist watches that let you unlock your car from across the parking lot.

At home

Take a look at the Shell Villa Nagano house. This architectural marvel recently built by Japanese firm ARTechnic looks like something straight out of The Jetsons. It’s equipped with a “biometrics lockage and security system [that] will reduce anxiety and stress over house safety management.” Other gazillionaires (like Bill Gates) have implemented similar extensive biometric security systems at their personal residences.

For the rest of us, deadlocks equipped with fingerprint scanners can be purchased at home improvement stores starting at around $200.

At the workplace

Forget paper punch cards. Biometric time clocks can scan workers’ fingerprints, hands, or eyes to track attendance, eliminating hours of tallying up old-fashioned time cards. Plus, there’s no chance of employees punching in for co-workers playing hooky. These devices start at $400.

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Fingerprint scanners can be embedded in keyboards and mice to authenticate a user before logging into a workstation or network. Scanning a finger is much more convenient (and perhaps more secure) than remembering and typing in a password. Forrester Research found that it is actually cheaper from an IT perspective to equip employees with new computers and laptops with embedded fingerprint sensors rather than respond to requests for lost passwords (which cost about $10 per password request).


Instead of showing an ID card and typing in a 4-digit PIN, students in Clovis, New Mexico now use their index finger to get their hot lunch and to check out library books. The new system is more efficient and secure, says the school’s IT director David Whitehead. The scanner only checks seven points on a fingerprint and the data cannot be reverse-engineered to recreate a student’s fingerprint. Each biometric scanner costs $800, and there is at least one in place at each school in the district.

Government identification

Implanting biometric data into identification cards, like driver’s licenses, passports, and Social Security cards is being discussed in both this country and abroad. The latest example comes from the California DMV, which wants to implement a facial recognition system and fingerprint check before issuing new licenses in the state. The technology would cost $63 million over the next five years if approved.

Do you use biometrics in your daily life yet? Tell us about it in the comments section.

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