SecuGen, a biometrics company specializing in optical fingerprint technology, has been making headlines recently with the launch of its latest Biometric Development Platform, Unity BDP. The platform, slated for release this quarter (Q1 2016), is modular by design and incorporates a Linux infrastructure along with a FAP 20 fingerprint sensor. Just last week, SecuGen announced the first entry in the Unity BDP product line, the UN20 Serial OEM sensor, with promises of more to come over the next few months.
Unity BDP and the UN20 will be demonstrated by SecuGen at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, January 6 to 9. FindBiometrics president Peter O’Neill recently spoke with Jeff Brown, SecuGen’s VP of Sales, about the company’s latest innovations, what to expect at CES and the challenges faced by biometrics vendors in a rapid growth industry.
Peter O’Neill, President, FindBiometrics (FB)- You just announced that SecuGen has launched a new Biometric Development Platform called Unity BPD. Can you please tell us about this?
Jeff Brown, Vice President of Sales, SecuGen- The Unity Biometric Development Platform is not just another OEM fingerprint sensor. It is a powerful, open platform for the creation of a wide variety of biometric products.
As you may know, OEM sales are a substantial part of our business. We have been providing optical fingerprint technology to the biometrics industry since we launched our first products in 1999. In fact, virtually all of our sales go to development organizations whether they are OEMs, VARs, or Independent Software Vendors (ISVs). They are our resellers/partners.
Our focus on selling to developers rather than end-users gives us a unique perspective. As a result, our R&D focuses on creating technologies and tools that enable biometric product developers and integrators. Unity BDP is the culmination of that focus.
In the old model an OEM sensor “kit” would usually consist of a sensor and a separate board. The board would contain the template generation and matching algorithms and it was typically a closed system. Product developers would take this OEM sensor kit and connect it to their own controller board. The controller board would then drive the fingerprint sensor, via serial interface or USB, as well as the other peripherals required for their particular application.
For an access control system the controller board would typically drive a keypad, LCD display and perhaps some other peripherals.
Depending on the product being developed there might be a whole host of other peripherals required such as card readers, Bluetooth chipsets, etc.
That was the past.
Unity BDP disrupts this paradigm. We have taken the board, with the template generation and matching algorithms, and shrunk it down so effectively that we have been able to integrate right onto the sensor itself. The sensor now has an integrated CPU running at 1 GHz and enough memory and flash storage for most applications.
We have also opened up the system. Unity BDP offers an open Linux so that developers can add their own functionality. Of course, SecuGen’s NIST certified template extraction and matching libraries are available to the Linux programmer.
We did not stop there. We design Unity in a way that allows it to accept small expansion boards. The expansion or ‘daughter’ boards can contain a truly wide variety of interfaces and logic. We are already working with one company to create an expansion board to contain Bluetooth and battery logic that will allow them to create a handheld wireless fingerprint reader.
You may have already realized that in many cases a controller board will no longer be necessary. Unity BDP will often negate the need for a separate controller board.
This will save time, space and money, all of which are at a premium for the hardware product developer. For developers the cost and ‘real estate’ savings will help them meet their design goals and will ultimately help them to sell more product.
FB- I’ve heard you mention that this new product is basically a fingerprint construction set? Can you elaborate on this?
SecuGen- Unity BDP provides an open Linux system, a template extraction and matching API. In addition, Unity BDP is built on the notion of expansion boards that snap onto the bottom of the sensor and only increase its height by millimeters.
Developers will have all of the tools necessary to create a wide variety of devices with built in biometrics, from access control machines, to ATMs, kiosks, industrial equipment, point of sale equipment, locks and safes. Unity is nothing short of a fingerprint construction set for product developers.
FB- You will be at the CES show this week in Vegas. Why is this a must attend show for you?
SecuGen- Well, it is difficult get exposure to new potential customers if you go to the same trade shows year in and year out. It is fun getting together with the same exhibitors and we do some of that ourselves so that we can commune with our fellow industry vendors. But, if one is looking to find potential new partners, it helps to look in new places.
CES, as you know, is an amazing show. It is broad, and deep and has expanded out from its original focus on consumer products.
We think that CES is especially well suited for our Unity BDP launch. As you walk around the show you will see an incredible range of hardware products. If embedding a fingerprint sensor inside that product can enhance its security and therefore its usefulness to end-users, then Unity BDP would likely be a good fit.
As you can tell, our focus is on the other exhibitors at CES.
FB- As an industry veteran, how important do you think that educating the public and end users is, as biometrics becomes more and more mainstream?
SecuGen- Well I think that we are all evolving in regards to security and biometrics—both the end-users and the industry itself. The world is changing. With events like 9/11, hackers obtaining customer information from banks and major corporations, Paris, and countless other global events, we are all evolving in our views on security and privacy and the tradeoffs between them.
It is an unfortunate fact, but when negative events like these occur, it makes us all feel vulnerable and insecure. Our industry must change and respond to these evolving circumstances on a continuing basis in order to provide the most relevant products. The biometrics industry must be one of the elements of the solution to these problems. The public counts on us to make it so.
FB- What are some of the challenges that rapid growth poses for our industry. What do you see?
SecuGen- The challenges of a rapidly growing industry are not unique to the biometrics industry but have happened over and over again throughout modern history. One of the obvious challenges is that the fantastic growth rate of the security and specifically the biometrics industry encourages more and more participants. The number of fingerprint sensor companies has exploded over the past ten years. There are several times the number of competitors now than there were back then.
When the industry growth slows, and some day it will, it will become more difficult for the less well capitalized and smaller companies to survive.
In the meantime, with an ever increasing number of competitors, it becomes more difficult to differentiate one’s product. Inevitably this creates confusion for end-users seeking to find the ‘best’ products and services.
The greatest advantage that companies like SecuGen and other long standing players in the biometrics market have is the breadth of experience that years of research and deployments have provided us. This is a critical advantage when the marketplace is moving as quickly as it is now.
FB- Jeff, thanks for speaking with us today and best of luck at CES this week.
SecuGen- Always a pleasure speaking with you, Peter.