Interview with Mark A. Clifton, Vice President, Products + Services Division at SRI

Interview with Mark A. Clifton, Vice President, Products + Services Division | SRI


fB: Can you please give our readers a brief background of the company?

S: We are the Products and Services Division of SRI International. This part of the organization, formerly Sarnoff Corporation, was originally founded as RCA’s research headquarters. SRI and Sarnoff/RCA research both started in the 40’s as research institutes. In 1987 Sarnoff became a wholly owned for-profit subsidiary of SRI and then was fully integrated in to the not for profit status of SRI in 2011. We are all joined together under the larger umbrella of SRI now.

fB: When did the focus on IRIS begin?

S: That started more than 15 years ago. The work on iris actually began back in the 90’s when it was Sarnoff. We actually spun out a company called Sensar in the mid 90’s, VC funded during the whole tech run-up, the tech bubble. That venture was providing iris biometric technology for the banking industry, ATM’s.

fB: Can you give us a brief overview of your current product lineup please?

S: Our big differentiator is that we work in a less constrained environment so we can do iris recognition on the move, at a distance and now we have also added in various lighting conditions including in broad daylight. We are currently developing the ability to do iris recognition at an off-angle. You don’t even have to be looking exactly straight on. We’ve been doing some research in that area and it is possible to recognize irises at an off-angle. Our product line starts with the N-Glance, which is really the lowest price unit that we have designed for doorway access control. We have indoor and outdoor versions of that. I think we are the only company that does promote the ability to do iris recognition outside. In fact, we use it here at our facility in Princeton for our employees at the front door to gain access. So instead of using their RFID card they can use iris to enter the building.

We are also introducing a drive-through system, so that you can use it for access to garages or facilities and things like that from afar. Range to measure someone’s iris, a drivers’ iris, is anywhere from a mini Cooper to an F350 pickup truck which is a pretty broad range of height. In addition to the iris recognition, it does a face capture simply for recognition purposes.

We have an enrollment kiosk that we rolled out earlier last year that does a full ISO/IEC-quality registration of dual irises and face so that you can have an easy enrollment. You walk up, you enter your biographic information through a document reader or something like that and you basically hit the enroll button. It captures your iris and face without any real user interaction other than keeping your eyes open.

We have a handheld unit that we call the RapID-Cam II that is used for recognition as well as enrollment. You can walk around with this portable version, use it at a distance, and enroll in bright sunlight or recognize in bright sunlight.

And then we have our PassPort walk-through portal system. It will process approximately 30 people a minute, just walking casually through this portal. It is very much like a metal detector, and the only requirement is that your eyes are open and that you are looking ahead. We have an indoor and outdoor version of that.

So we have quite a range of capabilities. We’ve also taken our N-Glance unit for door access and we have integrated that into several different turnstiles so that you can control, with a gated action, pedestrian traffic using iris recognition. In that particular case with the N-Glance, you do pause for just a second, but again at a distance of about 3 ft. to capture the iris and allow access.

fB: Your product lineup is extensive and as you were describing it, I was thinking of a number of questions on all of the different products. Let’s start with PassPort, 30 people/minute that is a very high through put, how do you accomplish that?

S: Our products leverage the patented Iris on the Move imaging technology that strobes the IR illumination. This gives the systems an unprecedented tolerance to subject motion. Again with the very fast iris recognition we have at 30 people/minute, you almost cannot walk people through a portal at that rate. So it really is functioning at the maximum of what people can physically do.

fB: Which is tremendous for any airport or border crossing facility where through put is one of the concerns at those types of deployments and if you can do 30/minute, your right, that is faster than people can actually perform!

S: Right. The turnstile systems that we have done with the N-Glance do require someone to pause and line up the bridge of their nose in a mirror or dot that we have on the unit. So it is a little bit more intrusive in that they have to stop, but for turnstile processing we measure 10 to 15 people a minute with that system.

fB: So if I can just sum up your product line, you do have kiosk, you have the PassPort system, which is more of a permanent fixed system, the modular system which is designed for physical access control perhaps and then the handheld where I see opportunities to move into a number of vertical markets which would include law enforcement. Is that the focus for the handheld unit or could you maybe describe which vertical markets that one is focused on?

S: Yes definitely law enforcement. As you know the US and different law enforcement localities are starting to use iris for when they book someone so this gives them the ability to recognize people once they book them and register them. But certainly law enforcement is one of the applications. We have several prisons that installed it for prisoner and visitor identification. And then we also have unusual applications. We actually have a situation where someone has purchased the system to use in agricultural fields to know who came to work that day.

fB: So a more time and attendance kind of scenario?

S: Yes a more portable time and attendance application as well.

fB: Where are you seeing the most rapid growth when you look at the different markets that you are exposed to?

S: Well the US I believe is behind as far as acceptance. We are finding the growth in the Far East the Middle East and in South America.

fB: Is this mostly around the airport type of application or the physical access control or law enforcement?

S: It’s time and attendance, it’s access control, it is all of those. It is a broad spectrum of applications that people are finding this useful.

fB: Mark, what would you say are the advantages of your technology versus let’s say other biometric deployments?

S: Well certainly I think that iris is one of the most accurate biometrics there is. I believe Dr. Bauer at the University of Notre Dame says that, the false match with a single eye iris match is about 1:1.1 million and with 2 eyes it is 1:1.4 trillion…very high numbers as far as accuracy. So I think the biometric itself is a very useful biometric and I think the Department of Defense in the US has certainly found that to be true and they use it extensively for their purposes. So the iris I believe has showed to be a non-contact very reliable biometric to use.

I think what we bring to the table in that biometrics space is again the ability to have it in a less constrained environment. In the past the iris systems that they used, for a lot of enrollments you almost had to wear a hood, you had to place something over the eye, you had to practically place the camera on the eye to get identification. We’ve added distance to that equation to make it easier to use, we’ve added motion to the equation so that the person doesn’t have to stand absolutely still, and we’ve also added the ability to do it outdoors. Quite honestly that has been the real differentiator in a lot of cases where the iris was not able to be recognized outdoors and we have conquered that.

fB: Is that because there is just too much light exposed? Is that the challenge there?

S: Yes we use near IR like most iris companies for the iris recognition and the sun puts out quite a bit of near IR illumination (near infrared illumination) so you have to overcome that.

fB: When you say, “iris at a distance”, where are you now with that technology? How far can you stretch that out now?

S: We have demonstrated a 100 m, but that is with a near telescope type device because of the physics but for practical purposes we’re in the 10 to 15 ft. range. Most of the systems are about anywhere from 0.5 m to 2-3 m. That is the typical range. The drive-up system is about a 1- 1.5 m. The handheld system is anywhere from about 0.5 m to 1 m away. We can extend those distances; it just depends on what the concept of operations is.

fB: When you sit down with your team at the end of the day and you talk about where this technology could take you in the future, let’s say looking 5 years down the road, what kinds of activities do you see this technology deployed in?

S: Well what we see is both demand for covert knowledge and of who is in the building, who is coming and going, so we see very unconstrained capabilities coming down that you may or may not be aware that you are getting your irises recognized. So we see that as certainly a strong place that it is going. But also that it will be easy to use, that it will be very seamless when you start to use this as a recognition tool for authentication and you will have a very high confidence that you are authenticating people correctly.

fB: For me, I think the ease of use is one of the great benefits of iris technology. The fact that you don’t need to put down whatever you are carrying, for example. There is a commercial on TV right now that FORD has just released, that emphasises that you can open the tail gate with your foot because they recognized that people always have something in their hands. So I’m thinking of markets like health care, financial and other vertical markets where this becomes a key selling feature.

S: Yes, we have an installation at Auburn University at their athletics facility and that is one of their biggest sales feature is that you don’t have to put down the gym bag!

fB: Residential use would also be ideal as costs start coming down and again I’m looking down the road. I can see applications in all sorts of those areas as well.

S: We have a lot of applications where people are looking for one or several parts of our product line to solve their problems, to reduce the number of guards and people that they have to do those functions.

fB: There is the ROI!

S: Right. They are looking at how to reduce the head count because right now, let’s just say for their employee passes into a building or something like that, somebody always forgets their pass or is fumbling at the turnstile for their pass and is causing a queuing problem. They want to get rid of that. And for people that have forgotten their pass, as long as they remember their employee ID and they have their iris, they should be able to get a new pass with no guard interaction.

fB: Mark, thank you very much for telling us about the great things going on at SRI.

S: My pleasure Peter!

About SRI International

Innovations from SRI International have created new industries, billions of dollars of marketplace value, and lasting benefits to society—touching our lives every day. SRI, a nonprofit research and development institute based in Silicon Valley, brings its innovations to the marketplace through technology licensing, new products, and spin-off ventures. Government and business clients come to SRI for pioneering R&D and solutions in computing and communications, chemistry and materials, education, energy, health and pharmaceuticals, national defense, robotics, sensing, and more.