Researchers at the University of Warwick, UK, say they have developed a technology to identify damaged fingerprints in just a few seconds. Their approach neglects surface marks and focuses on underlying patterns. The researchers claim that their technique is fast and 100% accurate -- at least it was on 500 people tested at the London Science Museum in August 2007. Now, they want to introduce this technology, which uses sweat pores as comparison points, in ID cards or passports and to access sensitive buildings. Will this new technology enter our biometric future? Time will tell.
You can see above on the left the central section of a typical fingerprint image. The figure on the right "shows two sets of pores extracted from two different prints of the same finger registered to one another. White crosses show the pore locations of the first print, black crosses the pores of the second print. Grey crosses indicate pore locations that coincide in both prints." (Credit: University of Warwick)
This technology has been developed by three University of Warwick researchers in the University's Department of Computer Science: Professor Roland Wilson, Dr Abhir Bhalerao, and Dr Li Wang. They've founded Warwick Warp Ltd to commercialize it. [Caution: site under construction]
So how does this work? "The University of Warwick researchers consider the entire detailed pattern of each print and transform the topological pattern into a standard co-ordinate system. This allows the researchers to 'unwarp' any finger print that has been distorted by smudging, uneven pressure, or other distortion and create a clear digital representation of the fingerprint that can then be mapped on to an 'image space' of all other finger prints held on a database.
And does this approach really work? "This unwarping is so effective that it also for the first time allows comparison of the position of individual sweat pores on finger print. This has not previously been possible as the hundreds of pores on an individual finger are so densely packed that the slightest distortion prevented analysts from using them to differentiate finger prints. The 'unwarping' of distorted, damaged or partial prints is not the only benefit of the new technology. The system created by the Warwick researchers is also able to give almost instantaneous results.
The technology has been tested on visitors at the London Science Museum in August 2007. In an article for Info4Security about "The future of biometrics," Steven Vickers reports about the Warwick Warp technology (August 24, 2007). "The Warwick Warp system uses an unusual approach to tackling deformation and poor quality prints which are believed to be the major technical constraint for current systems in achieving 100 percent accuracy. Instead of analysing surface marks, the computer looks at the underlying 'rich patterns' in the fingers so that superficial cuts and bruises do not interfere with its effectiveness."
Vickers also describes how this technology could be used. "Technology like Warwick Warp's could eventually be incorporated into identity cards (the first of which are set to be issued in 2009 under Labour's controversial plans) and biometric passports. The Government believes that these e-documents will prove invaluable in combating crimes like identity theft, social security fraud and even terrorism. However, Dr Wang does see the limitations of every biometric solution, including his own. 'In order to achieve mass market, biometrics needs to improve its accuracy to a foolproof level,' he said."
For more information about this technology, you can read a working paper published by the Centre for Research in Statistical Methodology (CRiSM), "Rotationally invariant statistics for examining the evidence from the pores in fingerprint" (PDF format, 18 pages, 462 KB). The above illustrations have been extracted from this paper.
But how can we trust such a technology?
Sources: University of Warwick news release, October 1, 2007; and various websites
You'll find related stories by following the links below.