INTERVIEW: Bob Eckel, Former MorphoTrust USA Head and Aware’s New CEO

INTERVIEW: Bob Eckel, Former MorphoTrust USA Head and Aware's New CEO

In September, biometric authentication specialist Aware, Inc. announced a couple of C-suite changes, including the appointment of former IDEMIA executive Bob Eckel as the company’s new CEO. Now, Eckel has offered some insight into why he decided to take on this new adventure in an interview with FindBiometrics President Peter O’Neill, not only providing some background on his role at MorphoTrust USA (which later became a part of IDEMIA through a merger), but also touching on how the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which occurred while Eckel was Raytheon’s VP of Air Traffic, helped to spur him forward into the identity industry.

Eckel goes on to explain what made Aware such a special and appealing company to join, and highlights the company’s Knomi authentication system as an example of the kinds of biometric solutions that we can expect from Aware going forward. He also shares his thoughts on the overall trajectory of the biometrics industry, and on how technology has changed how we think about identity more broadly.

Read the full interview with Aware’s new CEO, Bob Eckel, below:

Peter O’Neill, President, FindBiometrics: Hi Bob, thanks for taking time to speak with us today. Congratulations on your recent appointment as CEO and President at Aware.  Can you tell us a little about your background?

Bob Eckel, CEO, Aware, Inc: My passion has always been to build and lead companies that enable people to experience the life they deserve through technology. My focus on identity began following the events of 9/11 while serving as the VP of Air Traffic Control at Raytheon. The tragedy of that day brought to light the problem of passengers boarding planes with fake IDs, and it became clear to me that to prevent future similar tragedies, new identification technologies such as biometrics must be leveraged.

Prior to my appointment at Aware, I was the CEO of MorphoTrust USA for six years. Through an acquisition we became IDEMIA, where I was named CEO and President of their North American division. I was responsible for the integration of over 75 entities, which added many technologies and products, such as biometric enrollment and matching solutions for multiple domestic and international government and commercial entities.

FB: Why did you choose Aware for your next leadership role?

Bob Eckel, CEO, Aware, Inc: I joined the team so that together we can work to expand Aware’s leadership position in the industry. Aware’s biometric algorithms, applications, and platforms position us to expand our presence in government markets and also penetrate the commercial market with a wide range of innovative biometric solutions.

I have always been struck by the range of technology and expertise that Aware brings to bear. They also know from experience what it takes to not just develop a biometric algorithm but, more importantly, how to make it work in a scalable, reliable way in very large systems. One offering that exemplifies Aware’s approach is our liveness detection technology, which is part of our Knomi mobile biometric authentication solution. It is fully passive and works for both face and voice. Our implementation is extremely flexible, letting our customers adapt the architecture and user experience to their vision. 

Aware’s new ABIS is similarly designed to enable biometric systems that are open, flexible, extensible, and scalable. Our cloud-based Indigo™ solution offers biometrics as a service, with turnkey biometric solutions and microservices available on a subscription basis. Aware also has products for system integrators, such as BioSP, which is the market-leading biometric workflow and middleware platform.  It is used in very large-scale government projects as a hub that lets multiple biometric systems work together reliably and efficiently. Our products all employ a hardware-agnostic approach, enabling our customers to upgrade their system while also using existing infrastructure and suppliers. This has the effect of keeping costs down while extending the life of their systems.

FB: Aware has been in the biometrics space since its early days. Now that you’re at the helm, what can we expect to see from Aware?

Bob Eckel, CEO, Aware, Inc: Aware’s tagline is “Own Your Identity”, and to us that’s all about bringing biometrics to daily life in a way that delivers not only convenience and security, but complete control to users over how their identity data is used. An example is Knomi, which is being used by banks for onboarding new customers and for password-free login, all with a selfie. We’re also seeing adoption in other industries where identity is similarly critical to security or safety, such as in healthcare and retail. And so looking ahead, I see more customer wins of Knomi for applications where people demand the highest level of trust. 

“Own Your Identity” has another meaning for us, which is about how our products and expertise are provided to customers in a way that enables them to set their own course with their solutions. That means providing powerful biometrics technology that can be used by our partners to quickly and flexibly build identity solutions in their own vision. As we’ve done for over 25 years, we will continue to enable our customers—who range from OEMs to systems integrators and startups—to bring their identity solutions to life with biometrics. I am very excited to drive Aware’s customer engagement and commercialization strategy with this approach.

FB: Twenty years ago, biometrics were rarely used beyond criminal investigations. Today billions of people use biometrics every day for a variety of applications…it’s been quite a ride. Where do you think its headed?

Bob Eckel, CEO, Aware, Inc: Thanks to ever advancing software, computing, networking, and sensing technologies, biometric applications have exploded in value, and are becoming an integral part of our everyday lives in ways that were barely conceivable only a few years ago. Machine learning has driven exponential improvements in facial recognition performance, which in turn has brought mass-market adoption. What had primarily been a crime scene tool is now a technology used billions of times a day by consumers worldwide. This pace of change has been incredible. It is also accelerating. It’s understandable that in an environment of such rapid change that there will be concerns over some uses of biometrics. But I expect that over time, with education and responsible use that biometrics technology will be broadly recognized for its contribution not only to public safety and security, but to privacy. 

FB: There have obviously been great advances in technology over the course of your career, but the impact on the notion of identity seems to be particularly substantial. What’s your perspective on how technology has affected how we think of “identity”?

Bob Eckel, CEO, Aware, Inc: The concept of identity is rapidly evolving with the proliferation of our digital world, and the change has implications on many aspects of our lives. Humans are inherently social, and our technologies are amplifying the complexity of our interactions. Establishing and protecting our identities in the digital world has never been more essential, or more challenging. In the physical world, imagine suddenly losing the ability to identify ourselves or someone else; or the ability to protect our identity when we choose. Today, this is just as important in the digital realm.

Biometrics are the most natural and elegant technology to bridge the gap between our physical and digital identities. But as with any data or technology, we must use it responsibly. When we do so, biometrics offer a means to establish identity in a way that enhances privacy as well as security. I am excited to help Aware deliver technology that helps our customers realize their vision in a way that ensures users can “own their identity.”

FB: Congratulations again on your new role. We look forward to hearing more from you and Aware!