By Daniel McKeown
Although biometric recognition technologies at BETT 2010 invited the inevitable Big Brother comparisons, the number – and variety – on exhibition stands showed that the technology is here to stay, and exhibitors were quick to point out a range of benefits.
Systems available now include face recognition, finger vein scanning and fingerprint recognition, which can be used to operate cashless canteens, access lockers and register students, freeing up time for teachers by reducing their administration workload.
Aurora ID Card Centre was showcasing its faceREGISTER unit, which scans students’ faces with an invisible infra-red light and matches this with key facial measurements stored on the system. The unit is primarily geared towards self-registration by students and has already been adopted by some schools.
“The reaction of the youngsters has been really positive,” says Hugh Carr-Archer, chief executive of Aurora. He says that, far from removing students’ rights, the system gives them additional entitlement. “The main thing is, you're taking responsibility for your own registration – the teacher can make a mistake.”
The software is designed to map pupils' changing features as they grow, and Carr-Archer is confident about the security of the system's information. “We challenge anyone to hack it – even if you can hack it, you can't do anything with it, unless you know our algorithm,” he says. “Unlike with swipe cards, you can check it's the right person.”
Although swipe cards do leave the door open for 'buddy punching' (student signing each other in to cover absence), they remain a popular alternative to biometrics. “There's a lot of negative stigma surrounding biometrics,” says Mark Roger, general manager of Gladstone, whose OnRecord system can be operated by fingerprint recognition or swipe card. “Ironically, a lot of it comes from the teachers rather than the parents – they feel it's like Big Brother watching them, so they'd rather use the cards.”
If users opt for fingerprint recognition, an image of their finger is taken, three key points on the finger are identified and converted into a binary number to match against the system's records. The image of the fingerprint is then erased.
Another way the finger can be used as an identifier is through vein recognition: the user places a finger in the scanning device and it is identified by the pattern of veins beneath the skin, using infra-red light. Critics believe extremes of temperature can affect the reading, causing the veins to dilate or contract. However, manufacturers claim it is among the most accurate biometric technologies, giving the lowest rates of acceptance for false users and the lowest rejection rate for registered users.
“You can’t use a dead finger either,” deadpans Neil Bradley of Retail Systems Technology, who use Hitachi’s finger-vein scanners. Short of the grisly misappropriation of body parts, it is hoped that cashless canteens which use biometric technology will lay to rest the age-old problem of students being shaken down for their lunch money.
The systems may also prevent bullying of students in receipt of subsidised lunches, simply by protecting their identity – the students’ discount will be registered against their identity, removing the need for physical lunch vouchers. They can also be used for students’ lockers, making the problem of lost and stolen keys a thing of the past.
Sherri Morrisette of Nedap Education, who uses fingerprint scanning technology and swipe cards, says a locker vandal was recently caught in a partner schools thanks to the new technology. The system showed that a neighbouring locker had been accessed shortly before the incident took place – that of the vandal.
Not the first time fingerprints have been used to catch the bad guys.