New Fingerprint Tech Could Mean Never Losing Your Keys Again

Though it's not the company's focus, the Warp technology could have applications in forensics. After all, the system is designed to work with the kinds of non-ideal prints that unintentional situations tend to generate. The ability of the software to work with partial or smudged prints could increase the number of latent prints that investigators can use among those they find in the field. All those smudged prints that Horatio from CSI: Miami now tosses aside could now become fodder for his famous one-liners.

Other companies, meanwhile, are looking at other ways of dealing with the mashable-finger problem. Some suggest that fingers shouldn't make any contact with the scanner. Mitsubishi introduced the first such model back in 2005, but with the hefty price tag of about $4,500.

When it comes to the mass-market rollout of biometrics in access systems, fingerprinting technology is probably only one piece of the puzzle. Face-recognition and iris-scanning products offer some advantages over fingerprinting but are much more expensive. They could end up serving the high-end security markets, while simpler technologies with higher error tolerance just keep us from getting locked out of our cars. The ultimate solution, though, might be a biometric mashup, like using a fingerprint scan and facial recognition.

"The way biometrics is going is combining biometrics," said Govindaraju. "Why use just one?"

No story about biometrics is complete without mentioning privacy concerns. As they say in business, if you can measure it, you can manage it. And not everyone wants to be managed, especially if the government or a big corporation has the calipers. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation summed it up, "Biometric technology is inherently individuating and interfaces easily to database technology, making privacy violations easier and more damaging."

The privacy impact, however, will remain small until the technology becomes widespread. And because companies may actually prefer that you carry around their branded plastic, there's no guarantee that it will go mass-market, even in the long term.

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