Fingerprints South Africa
(Getty Images)
  • Biometric systems analyse data according to unique human characterises, like fingerprints or facial features.
  • And while fingerprint scanners are common biometric access tools, the Covid-19 pandemic has made continuous human contact a problem.
  • South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has developed software which creates a contactless fingerprint scanning solution.
  • It uses photographs to map fingerprints patterns, thereby avoiding the need for touch.
  • It can also acquire "fingerprints from babies as young as 6-weeks-old and possibly younger."
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South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has developed contactless biometric software which detects patterns in colour photographs of fingerprints. It’s now looking to partner in both the private and public sector.

Biometric systems, which analyse human features like fingerprints, faces, and voices, have advanced rapidly over the past decade. Mobile phones are unlocked through fingerprint and facial recognition, while the same applies to accessing buildings, and verifying a person's identity during registration processes.

These applications all have one thing in common: the ability to identify and individual through a unique human characteristic. Biometric technology, which is constantly evolving in its precision and speed, simplifies personal identification.

But using contact fingerprint scanners, arguably the most common biometric system, comes with its challenges, particularly during the time of Covid-19. These scanners need to be kept clean to ensure their optimum functionality and, within the context of a pandemic, to ensure the health and safety of all those who use it.

Constant cleaning has become a laborious task and is an ineffective long-term solution. One of the answers to this problem is contactless fingerprint scanning technology, which doesn’t require any uncontrolled direct contact with the hardware. The CSIR’s VeristicPrint Biometric System is an example of this technology.

"The VeristicPrint Biometric System is a contactless fingerprint recognition software solution that enables any digital device such as a smartphone or webcam to function as a fingerprint scanner," Edwin Rampine, a Senior Software Engineer at the CSIR, tells Business Insider South Africa.

"Simply put, [it's the] the use of a camera from a device to take a picture of your finger, then the software processes that picture to become a fingerprint that can be used as if you scanned it from a traditional fingerprint scanner. So, you get the fingerprint without 'touching' the finger."

The software can be integrated into web portals and mobile apps alike and can determine the unique pattern of a fingerprint from a photo taken with a camera with quality as low as 5MP.

The CSIR issued an invitation for the expression of interest (EOI) in VeristicPrint last Monday. This is a call for government departments, law enforcement and military agencies, airport services, retailers, financial institutions, and the healthcare sector to collaborate and invest in the software.

In addition to limiting the spread of Covid-19, VeristicPrint is also an affordable biometric solution that does not rely on specialised hardware. The software also allows users to enrol and be verified while at home, thereby eliminating queues.

Another advantage listed in the CSIR’s EOI invitation is the VeristicPrint’s ability to acquire "fingerprints from babies as young as 6-weeks-old and possibly younger".

VeristicPrint stores this data safely, says Rampine, and can be integrated into a physical server or in the cloud. The software also allows stored fingerprints to be encrypted, further heightening data protection.

"VeristicPrint has a feature that enables storing fingerprints secured in an irreversibly encrypted format [hashed], one of the other features of VeristicPrint is that it can match fingerprints in this hashed format, without the need to ‘decrypt’ the stored fingerprints," says Rampine.

"This provides inherent security, on top of other system-wide security measures that must be applied."

Parties interested in investing or deploying this technology have until today to respond to the CSIR’s EOI invitation. 

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