In the wake of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, FindBiometrics President Peter O’Neill spoke with Jeff Brown, Vice President Sales, SecuGen. The conversation begins with a summary of the biometrics company’s 19 year history before diving into the several new products SecuGen showcased at CES (many of which will alos be on display at the upcoming RSA conference). The interview then goes on to examine the benefits of optical fingerprint scanning, the challenges of bring biometrics into the automotive space, and finally some highlights from SecuGen’s successful 2016.
Peter O’Neill, President, FindBiometrics: SecuGen has been one of the leading biometric companies globally for about the past ten years, please tell us about the origins of the company.
Jeff Brown, SecuGen: SecuGen was created in the US by two Korean founders, Won Lee and Jay Ahn 19 years ago. They also created a Korean company to manufacture for SecuGen, but we split with them and went our separate ways in 2002. We began our company’s product development with the FDP01 which we put into our first finished product, the EyeD Mouse. The FDP01 sensor was the tall type of sensor that we later, in USB form, put into other products, the EyeD Hamster, Hamster III, Hamster Plus and Hamster IV and the rest is history. We have been a very successful company since then and even more so over the past five years.
FB: It sort of mirrors the growth of the industry now. You recently announced several new products at the CES show in Vegas in January, can you please review these for us?
SecuGen: Yes, certainly. We recently released one product and demonstrated three other future products at CES. The product that we just released is called the UN20 Serial. The UN20 Serial is an easily embeddable, serial interface OEM sensor that is based on a shorter type of sensor called the U20. The U20 is our FAP 20 certified USB sensor inside the Hamster Pro 20 and is the basis for a complete line of UN20 sensors.
Amazingly, the UN20 series of products, including the just released UN20 Serial contain a complete Linux computer implementation with a 1 GHz CPU onboard. Our complete fingerprint SDK is on the device as well as an easy to use API to simplify software development. So the UN20 Serial is a complete fingerprint system.
It captures fingerprint images, extracts industry standard templates, and matches and stores up to 10,000 templates, or 5,000 users, all on the sensor itself. We have been able to unify what in the fingerprint industry has commonly been a separate sensor and processing board. Our team has been able to integrate the two because our engineers have shrunk the electronics on the separate board so that it now fits neatly onto the bottom of the UN20 Serial sensor. Because we have unified what were previously two components, we call the product UN20 where UN stands for unity. In this case the 20 stands for its FAP 20 certification.
The first version of the UN20 that is now available is a Serial interface product. However, as a result of the flexibility designed into this product, the Serial version will be followed by various other versions with a variety of interfaces. In fact, one of these, the UN20 Bluetooth, was another of the products we demonstrated at CES.
FB: That is very impressive.
SecuGen: It’s pretty cool. The architecture of the UN20 with the integrated board is such that it presents itself as a biometric development platform, a “BDP”. Release of the Bluetooth version is scheduled for later in 2017. As the name suggests, and as I have tried to explain, it too is based upon the UN20 architecture. The UN20 Bluetooth consists of the U20 sensor and integrated Linux computer on board but it has a Bluetooth chip set. Of course it also has a Bluetooth stack running on it. We will sell the UN20 Bluetooth as both an OEM product and a finished version later on that we will call Unity Bluetooth.
In addition to that, we showed the Hamster Pro 45 which we will release later this year. The Hamster Pro 45 will be a two finger FAP 45 certified device that will support both flat and rolled scans. This product will capture a full Appendix F, AFIS quality image. We will, as we usually do, release it as both the U45 OEM version as well as the Hamster Pro 45 finished version. Our partners can embed the OEM version into some larger device or make their own two finger finished reader.
Finally, what I think may turn out to be the pièce de résistance, is the U10 device. The U10 is a very small FAP 10 OEM sensor. Its diminutive form factor makes it ideal for embedding into today’s ubiquitous mobile devices. We will design a case and release the finished reader as the Hamster Pro 10. The U10 and Hamster Pro 10 are small and very economically priced.
FB: There are many ways to capture a fingerprint, what sort of advantages does your patented optical technology have?
SecuGen: The advantage of our SEIR technology which means Surface Enhanced Irregular Reflection, is that the nature of the technology requires a certain angle of the platen and certain index of refraction of the material in the prism. What happens in our technology is that light that reaches the platen bounces off of things and is captured by the imager inside of the device only if they touch the platen. Areas where there is nothing in contact with the platen do not return light to the imager. So, that means the light bounces off of your fingerprint ridges and not the valleys. We are able to capture a higher contrast, a higher quality image using this patented technology.
FB: We reported actively about the biometric news coming from the CES show, what was your take about biometrics presence at CES this year?
SecuGen: As I’ve been going there for five years now, I’m the pioneer, you are looking at him. We decided to exhibit at CES for the following reasons: in the past when we went to ISC West or BCC or ASIS for example, some of our best leads would come from the exhibitors because we are a core fingerprint technology provider. We are not looking for an end user type customer. We provide technology: sensors, NIST certified algorithms, etc. So it seemed to me that since CES is a collection of the world’s largest device manufacturing companies, it would be likely that at CES we would come into contact with companies that we wouldn’t meet at the other shows. The opportunity to meet companies at CES who might want to embed a fingerprint sensor in their devices—or automobiles for that matter—seemed pretty large. It is has turned out just as we had imagined.
FB: There was certainly a lot of news coming out especially around automotive.
SecuGen: We had about 12 companies come to us from the automotive sector all asking about biometrics, but while you may think this is the big news, I’m not so sure. The challenges are enormous. Various companies came to us and told us that a sensor has to have a temperature range up to 85oC. Our current sensors are rated up to 65oC at which point you are already going to burn your finger. 85oC is crazy, but that is the potential temperature that a car cabin can reach in the sun with the windows closed. We even had somebody come by and say it had to be higher than that, 105 oC or 110 oC, which is over boiling! So I think it is going to be very challenging, though clearly not impossible, for someone to meet that spec. They will have to create a specialized sensor with components rated for very high temperatures, higher than are normally used in a fingerprint reader. For most uses 65 oC is more than enough.
Keep in mind that our products are already inside automobiles, not embedded but inside of cars and trucks in various fleet management applications. This generally works because these are commercial applications and the companies using them have control over the end user because they are their employees. They can store the fingerprint readers inside the vehicles in such a way as to mitigate the heat. In addition, in most of these instances the vehicles themselves are always parked in a garage when not in use.
The problem that the auto companies at CES are trying to solve is more difficult. They would like to use fingerprint sensors in consumer vehicles. In that case the vendors have little or no control over the use and handling of the vehicle. The challenge is therefore a bit more complex.
There are other challenges that the automobile presents as well. What happens if the fingerprint reader does not work? You have to have a backup method. What would that be? Are you using it to start the car or only using it to make sure the car is set to your specifications i.e. seat height, mirrors, etc. So, there is a lot of discussion going on about this and some trials going on, and we have been involved in some of these discussions. I am not an automotive expert so I am not sure how rapidly this is going to be accepted by the public or how easily they will be able to get suppliers. But it was definitely a big topic of conversation, and there is obviously a lot of R & D dollars and high IQs working on this.
FB: There have been a lot of automotive announcements moving ahead with biometrics, voice, face and iris biometrics, it’s not just fingerprint.
SecuGen: Absolutely, and it is possible that this is where it goes. There are already cameras attached to your cars, and maybe that is what will happen: voice and face. We’ll see.
FB: Has this been a good year for your company?
SecuGen: A great year! Record sales, and momentum. Tremendous momentum as we reached the end of the year, and if I had to predict I think it is highly likely that we will have a much better year in 2017.
India is going to be a big driver as the volume of fingerprint sensors needed. R&D and investment there is incredible. India is a challenging environment for non-Indian companies. It is unique culturally and politically. It takes a great deal of patience. We have been selling in India for about 17 years. We have very close ties there. The scale of the opportunity itself is unique. Embedded swipe sensors, the small silicon sensors in phones and laptops are sold by the hundreds of millions. They are pennies apiece but they are not FBI certified and in almost all cases are not certifiable.
The Indian government requires high quality, FBI certified devices. The scale of the projects underway require affordability and high quality at an affordable price, that is our sweet spot.
FB: That certainly is an exciting opportunity and the volume and the magnitude is quite remarkable.
SecuGen: India will change the fingerprint marketplace because of all the R&D that biometrics companies are doing for that market: it is going to drive the marketplace to some extent and bring prices down. All this is a result of what is going on in India.
As we spoke about earlier, we just released the UN20 Serial. Like I said, it has an integrated Linux computer on the bottom of it.
I believe that there are various efforts underway to define a “secure fingerprint device.” Again, because of the design of this sensor, that is to say, self-contained with a Linux computer on it, you can implement such specifications. So, there are going to be many of these secure devices that will be implementable with the UN20 Serial. That is really the exciting thing about the prospects for this product in the future.
FB: And it is happening so quickly, that is what is so impressive. Congrats on the great year and thank you for speaking with us today.
SecuGen: Peter, as always, a pleasure speaking with you.