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Saturday, January 15, 2011

AIRprint Scans Fingerprints from Six Feet Away

Fingerprint scanners aren’t exactly the most glamorous of technologies. They exist primarily to get in between us and the cool stuff we want to get at, be it files on our laptops or top secret goodies in some secure lab. Now a company called Advanced Optical Systems has built a fingerprint scanner that’s actually pretty cool: the AIRprint isn’t quite glamorous, but it has the potential to make fingerprint scanning a far more efficient process.

Say goodbye to actually touching fingerprint scanners--using two 1.3 megapixel cameras and polarized light, the AIRprint can scan fingerprints from about two meters away. Here's how it works.

AIRprint emits a beam of polarized light that is reflected by the ridges and valleys of our fingerprints. One of the cameras is tuned to receive vertically polarized light, while the other detects horizontally reflected light. Since the ridges and valleys reflect light differently, this allows AIRprint to generate a good picture of a fingerprint.

It only takes AIRprint a tenth of a second to scan a print, but there are some limitations. The scanner can currently only handle one finger at a fixed distance. Advanced Optical Systems expects to make rapid improvements, and by April AIRprint should be able to scan five fingers at a time even if they’re moving towards or away from the cameras. AIRplay currently takes about four seconds to process a fingerprint, but that time should be down to less than one second by April as well.

Military installations for AIRprint are a no-brainer: the Marines currently have staff members directing the scanning process from up close, but with this kind of scanner they won’t have to risk the close interaction.

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