Vein Pattern Recognition – Biometrics Underneath the Skin

Imran Khan, Research Associate, AutoID & Security

Introduction

The prominence and acceptance of biometric technologies such as fingerprinting, facial recognition, hand geometry, and iris recognition may leave little demand for other modalities. However, the emerging vein-pattern recognition technology, with its own unique features and advantages, has maintained its position against the others.

The up-and-coming biometric technologies include vein, DNA, ear, and body odor recognition. Of these, vein pattern recognition is gaining momentum as one of the fastest-growing technologies. It is on course to become the newest entrant to mainstream biometric technologies, moving from the research labs to commercial deployment.

How does it work?

The technology works by identifying the subcutaneous (beneath the skin) vein patterns in an individual’s hand. When a user’s hand is placed on a scanner, a near-infrared light maps the location of the veins. The red blood cells present in the veins absorb the rays and show up on the map as black lines, whereas the remaining hand structure shows up as white. After the vein template is extracted, it is compared with previously stored patterns and a match is made.


Source: Fujitsu Limited

Variations of Vein Recognition Technology

There are different types of vein recognition technology, which include finger vein, wrist vein, palm, and backhand vein recognition. The underlying concept of scanning remains the same with each of these techniques.

Ever since the technology was commercialized in 2004, there have been numerous entrants to the vein recognition market. The prominent companies are Fujitsu Limited, Hitachi, Ltd., and Techsphere Company Ltd. Fujitsu’s product called PalmSecure scans the veins present under the palms, while Hitachi’s product scans veins present in the finger. Techsphere’s product called VP-II scans the veins located on the back of the hand. Some products scan veins located on the wrists as well.

Advantages

Some of the advantages that vein pattern recognition provides are:

  • The vein patterns are unique to each individual. Apart from size, the pattern does not change over time. This feature makes it suitable for one-to-many matching, for which hand geometry and face recognition may not be suitable. Vein recognition technology has a False Rejection Rate (FRR) of 0.01% and a False Acceptance Rate (FAR) of 0.0001%, hence making it suitable for high-security applications.
  • Veins are located underneath the skin surface and are not prone to external distortion the way fingerprints are. This reduces the high failure to enroll (FTE) rate caused by bad samples. Vein patterns are difficult to replicate because they lie under the skin surface. Fingerprints can be duplicated using gummy fingers. Additionally, some vein recognition models come with ‘liveness’ detection that senses flow of blood in veins.
  • User friendliness: This technology overcomes aversion to fingerprinting and related privacy concerns since its traditional association to criminal activity is non-existent. In countries such as Japan, where there is strong opposition to fingerprinting, vein recognition has become the biometric technology of choice. It is relatively quick as it takes less than 2 seconds to authenticate. Some noncontact models are more hygienic than fingerprint readers.
  • Potential fusion with other biometric technologies: With the popularity of multimodal biometrics, vein recognition technology could be used in conjunction with hand or fingerprint biometrics. Vein recognition can provide one-to-many matching, and hand geometry can be used for one-to-one matching, thereby enhancing security.

Deployments

Much of vein recognition deployments have been in the Asia Pacific region. Due to strong resistance to fingerprinting in Japan and South Korea, the vein biometric companies have found easy acceptance.

The adoption rate has been especially high in financial institutions in Japan. The Bank of Tokyo — Mitsubishi uses palm vein recognition for all ATM transactions. Other banks utilize finger-vein recognition technology. This has created fierce competition between Fujitsu’s palm vein and Hitachi’s finger vein technology.

Banco Bradesco, the largest private bank in Brazil, announced a deal to incorporate palm vein technology into its ATMs.
Hitachi’s finger vein technology has found usage in PC authentication due to its small size. It is also used for gate access/door access in Singapore.

Majority of applications are in financial transactional authorization, physical access control, and PC logical access. There is not much demand from government or travel verticals yet.

Challenges

  • Invasive: While it is less invasive than iris scanning, the fact that the technology studies the subcutaneous level can create apprehensions among people, giving them the psychological impression that it could be a painful process.
  • Expensive: The technology is not cheap enough for mass deployment. Vein recognition units cost $2,000 to $4,000, whereas hand geometry readers and fingerprint scanners are priced at $1,200 and $500, respectively.
  • Large Size: The presence of a CC camera makes the unit larger than a fingerprint reader. This prevents its adoption for the fast-growing mobile computing and logical access application markets. Unless the size is reduced, it may not be able to match silicon scanners in terms of versatility. Although Hitachi’s finger-vein scanning unit is compact enough for PC access, it is not small enough to be integrated with notebooks computers or cell phones, the way silicon fingerprint sensors are.
  • The technology is still untested because only vendors confirm the accuracy levels. The lack of interest from governments and standards agencies has not proved its capability yet. There are no mandates encouraging adoption either.

Conclusion

Vein recognition technology has been immensely popular in Japan and South Korea since 2004. Customers in the Middle East and South East Asia are considering adopting the technology. Companies like Fujitsu have started worldwide sales campaigns to push for wider acceptance in the financial transaction authorization space in North America.

As the usage of biometric technologies expands, the need for different modalities for different applications becomes imperative. Vein recognition has great potential as a convenient, easy-to-use biometric technology with high security and accuracy levels. It is being marketed aggressively due to backing from tier 1 corporations. The technology is gaining momentum, but whether it can displace fingerprint biometrics and become successful with high-profile government deployment remains to be seen.