Sensor-on-a-chip scans prints in an instant

The EntréPad fingerprint sensor fits onto a single chip and is small enough for use in cellphones and PDAs

A new fingerprint scanning technology has been unveiled by Florida company AuthenTec.

The EntréPad sensor is low power and robust, and the company says it is suitable for cellphone and PDA use as well as fixed installations. Integrated into one chip, the device is less than a centimetre square and uses under ten milliwatts when imaging. The finger under test is applied to the top surface of the chip, which has an especially hardened coating, and identification takes place in under a second.

The sensor works by detecting the pattern of living cells beneath the dead epidermis. It creates a low-power field of radio waves that are distorted by the conductive salty fluids in the skin cells. A matrix of sensors on the chip's surface measures and charts this distortion, and the rest of the chip recreates the fingerprint image for analysis. The pattern of the cells beneath the epidermis is identical to that on the surface itself. Because the sensor doesn't react to the surface of the finger, it can't be distracted by changes to that surface - calluses, dirt or ageing aren't registered. The company says that as part of its tests, employees attempted to remove their fingerprints using abrasion, but this didn't affect the accuracy of the measurements.

Biometrics -- the science of identifying people through personal attributes -- is increasingly being seen as an important part of security. Fingerprints and iris recognition are among the most accurate and reliable methods being considered, although there is user resistance to techniques that have traditionally been identified with the detection of criminals.

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