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BLOG: Biometrics: Vascular vs Fingerprint

John Trader | April 7, 2011
Will vascular biometrics eventually surpass the almighty fingerprint?

How Did Fingerprint Biometrics Get To Be The Most Dominant Modality?

Ask most people what they think of when they hear the words “biometric technology” and chances are a majority will mention “fingerprint” in the answer.  With good reason too, fingerprint biometric technology is the most dominant of all the modalities available, has been used in forensics for over a century to identify criminals and also happens to be the most affordable rendering it much more adaptable for commercial applications.  When biometric identification for government and business security functions first came on the forefront over a decade ago, few believed that fingerprint recognition would be a fugacious modality simply because of its versatility and seamless transfer from the world of forensic biometrics to biometrics for personal identification.    

However, with the rise in emerging biometric trends and alternative modalities other than fingerprint, will there come a day when the ubiquitous fingerprint will no longer dominate the market?  The answer is: perhaps.

Fingerprint Biometrics Has Distinct Limitations

For all intents and purposes, fingerprint biometric technology is solid.  Most modern fingerprint readers are durable, built with sophisticated sensor technology that inhibits impostors and forgeries, and come with inexpensive matching software that is intuitive and offers rapid search capability.  The problem though with fingerprint recognition is that it is not a one-size-fits-all solution.  As biometric software companies saw the frequency of their deployed technology go from the infant to toddler to preschooler stage and it began to be used more regularly in unfavorable conditions (i.e. – deployments where dirt, grease, grime, cuts, scrapes and bruises affected the integrity of a fingerprint), they realised that there was a certain percentage of the population whose fingerprints were not recognisable. 

In addition, within the biometric industry, it is often discussed that there is a small percentage of the population, regardless of their profession and usually due to age or certain ethnicities, which simply have unreadable fingerprints making fingerprint biometric technology essentially ineffectual.  Considering the limitations of fingerprint biometric technology, especially in the environments we described above, businesses within these vertical markets that recognised the value of biometric technology but couldn’t successfully use fingerprints as a viable modality began to discontinue using biometrics altogether.

The Rise of Vascular Biometrics

Then along came vascular biometrics which does not rely on fingerprints for identification purposes.  Instead, it relies on capturing an image of the vein pattern beneath the skin and using that image as the basis for individual identification.  So unlike fingerprint technology, the integrity of the skin is not an issue with vascular biometrics.  By using near infrared light to capture a finger vein or palm vein pattern beneath the skin surface to identify an individual, vascular biometrics bypasses the need to have quality fingerprints in order to successfully use a biometric system that can identify nearly 100 per cent of end-users and allows biometrics to be used in environments that otherwise are not conducive to fingerprint technology.  In addition, independent testing of vascular technology has provided results that prove it is just as accurate as fingerprints for matching. 


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