AUGUST 1--Since no two retinas are alike--not even in identical twins--retinal scanning is widely recognized as the most accurate and reliable of the biometric technologies, yet cost and implementation issues have prevented its widespread adoption. Because the vascular pattern in the retina does not change over the course of an individual's life, it is a permanent source for authenticating identity. Fraud-proof, it is virtually impossible to replicate the image produced by a human retina for unauthorized access to computer networks, medical records or physical facilities. Unlike passwords, a retina cannot be forgotten; unlike plastic cards, a retina cannot be lost or loaned to someone else.
Now, a new company, Retinal Technologies Inc. (RTI; Boston, MA), is offering a hand-held, real-time retinal-scanning system. "Inexpensive, lightweight, and rugged, our retinal-scanning system will set a new standard for biometric identification," said Paul Steitz, CEO of RTI. "Identity theft, unauthorized computer access, and understandable anxiety about the lack of privacy on the Internet have highlighted the need to improve the standards of security that prevail today. This invention will eliminate the barriers to the widespread adoption of retinal biometrics for identity verification."
RTI uses a patented aspheric lens array to capture a retinal image at distances as great as a meter from the user's eye. With the availability of new LEDs and CCD technology, the RTI system can be manufactured very inexpensively. Drawn from ophthalmic imaging science, this technology is completely safe and unobtrusive. "Several streams of technological innovation have come together to enable us to create a retinal scanner that is fast, accurate, and noninvasive," said RTI scientific advisor John Marshall. "Our device will rapidly advance adoption of retinal scanning as the biometric technology of choice."
Retinal-scanning applications are numerous. Embedded in a mouse or keyboard or as a stand-alone peripheral, a retinal-scanning system can secure e-commerce transactions, regulate access to medical and financial information, and protect corporate enterprisewide data and systems. Portable or kiosk-based retinal scanners can be used anywhere lengthy paper or card-based identification processes can be streamlined, including airline-ticket counters, immigration lines, sporting events, and at the point of sale for retail and banking transactions. Secure access to schools, government facilities, and office and industrial buildings can also be managed by retinal-scanning technology.
Because of their accuracy and stability over time, retinal images are an excellent basis for national ID programs and elections. Retinal-scanning technology also can be used for registering and tracking companion animals, livestock, and racehorses. RTI intends to pursue commercializing its technology in these markets.