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It started out as a joint project with Philips, to develop new imaging echnology for X-ray equipment. The same underlying technology was later applied as an optical fingerprint scanner, which TNO continued to develop in partnership with the Belgian research institute IMEC. This technology has now been developed to such an extent that it is even possible to detect the patterns of veins in a finger or hand. There is a broad range of potential applications. A transparent prototype of the fingerprint scanner was demonstrated at the Society for Information Display’s (SID) 2019 Display Week, the largest display conference in the world wher it won the SID’s ‘Best Prototype Award’ during the conference. In addition to fingerprints, this newly-developed sensor can recognise palm prints and even patterns of veins beneath the skin. It can be seamlessly integrated into the screens of phones or tablets, giving these devices a much higher level of security.
The sky’s the limit
Using large area thin-film technology for biometric applications opened up even more opportunities. Using this technology, it is possible to detect features on large surfaces and simultaneously at high resolutions. For instance, an entire hand – including all of the fingers – can be scanned at once. One obvious application involves restricted access to buildings and to individual rooms within them. The technology could also be used for custom checks, operating a cash dispenser, paying for public transport, or even unlocking a car.
Vein pattern recognition
The image sensor combines various thin-film technologies, such as organic photodiodes (OPD) and oxide transistors (TFT). Its dynamic range and extremely high resolution give the sensor a high level of sensitivity, even in low light conditions. The ability to recognise patterns of veins beneath the skin (which are unique to each individual) represents the latest stage in the development of this technology, which is based on sensitivity to near-infrared wavelengths. This creates the perfect interplay of absorbed and reflected light underneath the skin.
Biometric recognition is a global growth market, mainly serving national and regional governments, judicial authorities, the police, and customs authorities. Fingerprint-based systems can be replaced by more advanced – and more secure – vein-pattern recognition systems. Fingerprints are the ‘gold standard’ in biometric recognition. But, since we leave fingerprints wherever we go, these are also the easiest biometric feature to duplicate. Veins beneath the skin that are only visible in near-infrared light provide an extra means of protecting a person’s biometric profile.
TNO would be happy to engage with any parties that are keen to invest in this unique technology, and with any companies that are prepared to help develop it into market-ready applications.