Physical Access Month: Four Major Modalities

April is Physical Access Month here at FindBiometrics, during which we will be taking an in depth look at the ins and outs of biometric physical access control solutions. Each week we will be publishing a new featured article on the topic, culminating in an exclusive webinar event, Balancing Convenience and Security in Biometric Access Control.

As we briefly touched on in last week’s featured primer, physical access control is an area of application that is friendly to a very diverse range of biometric modalities. This is largely due to that fact that each deployment has to meet different demands based on a number of considerations, like the number of people using a system, the level of security required and even cultural nuances that might favor certain types of biometric authentication.

Today we are going to take a look at four prominent biometric modalities in physical access control and the unique strengths they bring to security applications.


SRI InternationalIn high throughput environments, convenience is key to maintaining efficiency, and convenience boils down to speed and accuracy. Iris biometric solutions are excellent in catering to these needs, able to authenticate users in a contactless manner that keeps lines moving and can even prevent the spread of seasonal germs.

An example of iris biometrics in physical access control that caters to all the modality’s best strengths is the Iris on the Move (IOM) PassThru drive-up iris recognition system from SRI International. The iris biometrics solution is intended for deployment at vehicle entry points, able to identify five drivers per minute, ensuring that traffic keeps moving and unauthorized personnel aren’t gaining access to places they don’t belong.

IOM systems, as implied by the name, allow for contactless authentication via a simple glance at the iris scanner. When authenticating a person driving a vehicle this is extremely accommodating, not requiring any sort or reaching through windows of fumbling with cards – activities that slow down access procedures and build congestion. Iris biometrics – here and in other situations – are excellent for keeping traffic flowing while also offering the usual benefits of strong authentication.


Biometric Access ControlIt should be no surprise that fingerprint recognition – among the most prolific of biometric modalities – has a strong presence in physical access control. The modality can be found indoors and outdoors, protecting workplaces, railways, personal safes and pretty much any kind of facility that requires locked doors.

Fingerprint biometrics are versatile in physical access control. Technology like Finger On the Fly from Morpho (Safran) is ideal for high throughput areas, simply requiring the wave of a user’s hand for four-fingerprint authentication. For an added boost to security, the modality is also commonly deployed with additional smartcards, bolstering a system with a second factor.

Notably, fingerprint biometrics – thanks to recent innovations in sensor manufacturing, smartcard tech and smartphones – are bringing mobility into the physical access control realm. Zwipe, for instance, offers a biometric access card with an embedded fingerprint sensor for on-device authentication. In addition to that, we are also starting to see the beginnings of a smartphone-based bring your own credential option, made possible by NFC and fingerprint biometric technology on new smartphones.


Facial RecognitionFacial recognition also brings its own special strengths to physical access control deployments. From an end-user perspective, used on a door-by-door basis, it can operate in a similar manner to iris recognition in that it is a contactless modality. Indeed, deployments like this do exists, a perfect example being in The Marque – a Texas business club that secures members-only areas with Morpho’s 3D facial recognition technology.

Where face biometrics technology brings its own unique stamp to the access control process is its ability to also act in an identification capacity. Recently seen used at St. Mary’s high school in St Louis, this kind of security system unlocks doors for enrolled students, faculty and volunteers, while simultaneously keeping watch for persons on a watch list. With a system like the one at St Mary’s, the presence of known predators, disgruntled former teachers and the like is made known to the proper staff via email and SMS alerts.


The Fujitsu PalmSecure was named one of ten "World Changing Ideas" by Scientific American Magazine in 2011.

The vein patterns in the palm of your hand can also be used in physical access control applications. Palm vein biometrics, like those offered by Fujitsu through its PalmLock technology (based on it’s PalmSecure offering), bring secure authentication to highly critical spaces like laboratories.

Vascular biometrics technology offers a very high level security by virtue of it being incredibly difficult (read: nearly impossible) to spoof. For a palm vein pattern to be scanned, blood must be flowing through the veins in a user’s hand, and, since the human circulatory system is sub-dermal, it is unclear how an image can even become compromised in the first place. That having been said, a few years ago Fujitsu developed the technology to address the problem of irrevocability, so even if it one day becomes possible to spoof vascular biometrics, here we have a situation with a contingency plan.


Stay posted to FindBiometrics throughout April as we delve deeper into biometric physical access control. Follow us on Twitter and be part of the conversation by using the hashtag #FBPhysicalAccess. Don’t forget  to sign up for our exclusive webinar Balancing Convenience and Security in Biometric Access Control.

Physical Access Month is made possible thanks to our sponsors, Morpho (Safran) and SRI International.

April 8, 2015 – by Peter B. Counter