Over the course of the mobile biometrics boom of the last several years, a number of fingerprint sensor specialists have sought out new and growing market opportunities in the commercial sector. A range of OEMs and consumer tech brands have looked to biometric technologies to offer innovative new solutions, not only in smartphones but in an expanding range of other devices including laptops, ATMs, and more.
Among the providers of the biometric technologies powering these innovations, SecuGen has emerged as one of the most reliable. The company regularly launches new and improved fingerprint sensors and readers that offer extremely compact form factors while maintaining a high level of accuracy and technological sophistication. Its latest innovation is to bring Bluetooth functionality to the mix, with a new sensor solution to be showcased at CES 2019 that can pair with other devices using the communications technology, and can also be programmed via a Linux development environment.
Naturally, this new solution ended up being the jumping-off point for a new interview between FindBiometrics President Peter O’Neill and SecuGen Vice President Jeff Brown, with the two also touching on SecuGen’s broader business strategy, its work in India’s biometric national ID program, and the ongoing evolution of biometric security.
Read our full interview with Jeff Brown, Vice President of Sales, SecuGen:
Peter O’Neill, President, FindBiometrics: You just announced a new product offering combining your very successful U20 sensor with Bluetooth technology, can you please tell us about this?
Jeff Brown, Vice President of Sales, SecuGen: Yes, we are very excited about this product launch and we will be showing this product at CES 2019 in January. This is a dual use product intended to be a wireless fingerprint device on your desktop or an in-the-field handheld fingerprint reader. We see multiple uses for it and we believe we have the sleekest, best designed Bluetooth reader in existence so far and it is fairly low priced compared to most of the other units as well. So, we are very excited about this product launch.
FB: How easy is it for OEM’s to customize this new product to fit their individual needs?
SecuGen: It should be very easy for them and it is completely programmable. You can use a protocol listener that we have running on that device to use it right out of the box. Or you can develop your own software since there is a single board computer merged with the sensor that has a 1 GHz CPU and a fully programmable Linux environment so it is very customizable. Our U20 sensor is reasonably small so it is embeddable in almost any type of device.
FB: I know you work very closely with a lot of your industry partners, what were the drivers behind the need for this product?
SecuGen: We did have a few customers doing field work, some in conjunction with the United Nations or other NGO’s where they would go into the field with an Android tablet and a fingerprint reader and authenticate people for the purpose of distributing benefits. One of our partners developed a Bluetooth device around the U20 and coincidentally we had developed a new architecture which is another product that we call U20 ASF which integrates the U20 sensor with single board computer as I mentioned previously, so it was a simple step to add a Bluetooth chipset to it and create a Bluetooth reader. So, that was really the genesis of it. Then along the way we decided that this was also a way to cut the cord, that the product had to be stable and work well on the desktop and just as many of us have wireless mice or keyboards, this is a wireless fingerprint reader.
FB: You mentioned that CES is on this week in Las Vegas and I know that many of our readers will be attending, where can they find you in this giant show that takes over all of Las Vegas?
SecuGen: Well put Peter! We are in booth #35232 and that is in the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center on the upper level and we’d be happy to see any of your readers.
FB: And that is Jan. 8-11, and again one of the worlds’ largest shows. I’d like our readers to know a little bit more about your overall business model, can you tell us about your channel strategy please?
SecuGen: To begin with you need to know that we are laser-focused on fingerprint technology only and not any other type of biometric or products not derived from fingerprint readers but fingerprint technology itself: sensors and finished readers and associated software. All over the world we have basically three types of partners: OEM’s that embed us into their hardware, VARS and system integrators who take our products and other company’s products and build systems, and the third are ISVs or software vendors who embed us as well.
FB: India’s Aadhaar program continues to be the world’s largest biometric program ever, though it has recently received some challenges. Very recently the Indian Supreme Court has ruled that the Aadhaar is here to stay, can you please tell our readers about your involvement in India and about this very recent ruling?
SecuGen: Yes, I’d be glad to. First of all, we were founded in 1998 and released our first products in 1999, and within about 12 months we began doing business with some Indian companies and we have been there ever since. We have watched as the Adhaar program was first initiated, and as it developed, and you are right: it is an enormous project as there are 1.2 billion people in India and they have enrolled all adults into the project’s database. The Supreme Court ruling said that only the government could use the Aadhaar database and that commercial ventures could not. However, there is a lot of pressure from the banking and telecommunications industries, as they have invested a lot of money thinking that they were going to be able to use the Aadhaar program. These companies are typically mandated by the Indian government to, “Know Their Customer” and this is a fraud prevention type program. So, the best and easiest way to do that would be to authenticate customers using the Aadhaar database. So, they are challenging the Supreme Court ruling and we are fairly optimistic that in a few months there will be a ruling in favor of those industries.
FB: You, Jeff, have an extensive background in our industry with several different large firms but also heavily in the fingerprint marketplace, as you mentioned before. How do you see today’s security environment?
SecuGen: I have to say that it is unfortunate that our industry thrives and grows so well and I think it is a response to the uncertainties in our world, which are fairly substantial. Our company I think was helped in its growth by the very unfortunate and horrible incident of 9/11 and every time there are incidents in this world, whether they are a hacking, or somebody with ill intent getting into a crowded venue that shouldn’t, that helps the security industry. I don’t see any reversal in that anytime in the near future and hopefully we figure out how to deliver perfect security to everyone but until that day I think this will be a growing and thriving industry.
FB: It seems like security is not one single thing but rather a host of many different factors. Often biometrics are thought to be the be-all and end-all solution but really, we are part of a much larger industry/solution – would you agree with that?
SecuGen: I would, and I don’t think we should forget that biometrics, and with fingerprint biometrics in particular, are also used for convenience. You don’t have to remember a password and a username, you don’t have to remember anything, you just have to present a finger and you can be authorized to logon to a network for example or to access to a secure area. But yes, security is multi-pronged obviously; we all lock our doors when we leave our houses but that is not foolproof by any means because someone could knock out your window and come in, but typically we don’t have a tremendous number of valuables in our house, so we don’t worry about that, but if we do, we employ other means. We may have security systems, we may have motion sensitive light as well as cameras on our house – so we, in our lives, use multiple methods to improve security. We have locks on our cars but we have a car alarm as well and that goes on and on, and if you were in charge of protecting the gold reserves at Fort Knox I think you would find a few other additional means to secure the place as well – you would have armed guards and multiple biometrics: facial recognition, fingerprint technology etc. So, depending on what you are trying to secure and how valuable it is and depending on the threat you perceive, one needs to build an appropriate system of security.
FB: You mentioned two things that are very topical today, one is multimodality and the other is the convenience vs security aspect of our industry. And convenience seems to be one of the main drivers as you indicated, and multimodality is a good solution when you are dealing with a valuable proposition. As with your Fort Knox example, you would probably have several different types of biometrics at play and not just one. So, you have covered a lot of ground there that we at FindBiometrics wholeheartedly agree with. Those two areas in particular seem to be very hot topics these days.
As always Jeff it has been a pleasure speaking with you. Best of luck at the CES show along with 200,000 of your personal friends.
SecuGen: Thank you Peter very much, it is always a pleasure speaking with you.