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Four incredible smartphone camera technologies

Mike Elgan | March 9, 2015
At Mobile World Congress this week, four innovative companies are leveraging smartphone camera technology to do surprising new tricks.

A fingerprint scanner
A South Korean company called Union Community announced a phone add-on called Nurugo that's designed bring fingerprint identification functionality to smartphones that don't already have it via their built-in cameras.

About the size of a small box of matches, the Nurugo attaches to the back of a smartphone with magnets. (Union Community claims that it currently supports all Android phones.)

On the side that touches the phone, there's a lens that covers the camera lens. On the other side is a fingerprint reader.

When you scan your finger, a digital representation of your fingerprint shows up on the screen, so you can see the quality of the image. Then, using the Nurugo app, you can lock and unlock your phone with your fingerprint scan. It even works when your skin is wet (which a company representative named Eun Yool demonstrated for me by dipping his finger in a bowl of water, then scanning it).

Union Community isn't planning to sell the  Nurugo directly; it's looking for other companies to resell it. The company also has an API in the works so that other companies will be able to leverage the fingerprint-scanning technology.

An eye scanner
Union Community's Nurugo wasn't the only product at World Mobile Congress that uses an ordinary smartphone camera for biometric identification. The Chinese smartphone company ZTE unveiled a new version of its Android-powered Grand S3 smartphone, which uses its camera to scan eyes for biometric identification (See video above).

The phone uses EyeVerify's EyePrint ID system, which doesn't scan a person's iris, as some eye-scanning biometric tools do. Instead, it maps and reads the pattern of blood vessels in the whites of the eye, which EyeVerify claims are unique to each person, just as fingerprint patterns are.

To unlock a Grand S3, you look at the screen and follow a green line with your eyes. The line moves up and down on the screen for a short while (roughly one minute). The front-facing camera scans your eyes while you're doing this, identifying and mapping the pattern of blood vessels.

Using the Grand S3's eye-scanner isn't quick or convenient, especially compared with fingerprint scanning. But ZTE claims it's more secure because fingerprints can be more easily spoofed.

The ZTE Grand S3 with Eyeprint ID is for sale in China only, and it costs just under $500. The company expects to start selling the phone in the U.S. by the end of the year.

So there you have it: Four amazing ways companies are combining cameras with smartphones.


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