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Identifying with Identica

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Terry Wheeler
Terry Wheeler started Identica Corp. in Canada in January 2003. Today the company’s hand vascular pattern matching biometric technology has been implemented at two of the largest ports in Canada and at other points of critical infrastructure around the country. The technology verifies users by utilizing a patented recognition algorithm based on unique veins and capillaries found on the back of the human hand. SP&T News recently talked to Wheeler about vascular scan technology and the biometric market.


June 19, 2008
By Jennifer Brown

SP&T News: How do you go to market with Identica’s vascular scan technology?
Terry Wheeler: We only sell
through authorized integrators and those are usually the ones selling
access control systems. We also have a couple of OEMs we’re working
with. We worked with Simplex Grinnell on the Vancouver Fraser Port
Authority and Unisys on the Port of Halifax projects.
On the development side we do all that work internally, so if there is
a third party that wants to integrate with our product we will work
with their developers but we also have our own developers.

SP&T News: What vertical markets have you had the most interest from?
TW: Universities have been a
strong market for us, both in Canada and the United States with various
applications. McMaster University has it on their nuclear medicine
facility. The University of Ottawa has it on its biohazard labs. We
also opened our facility in Europe in last fall and that market is
starting to take off for us.

SP&T News: Does Identica offers just a vascular scan technology?
TW: We offer the vascular scanner, peripherals and software to go around it.

SP&T News: Are customers more comfortable with vascular scanners than they are other more traditional biometric technology?
TW: Absolutely, and there are a
number of reasons. Vascular scan goes about 4 mm below the surface of
the skin at the back of the hand. You have to voluntarily put your hand
in the device – you can’t inadvertently leave your biometric behind
like you can a fingerprint and because of that there are no police
databases of vascular patterns. The individual presents his or her hand
to the scanner and the live vascular pattern is matched to a stored
template, identifying the individual. People feel fingerprinting and
iris scan is more intrusive.
We talk to unions on a regular basis about their concerns when
implementing on a large-scale basis in a union environment. In the
sales cycle with the Port of Halifax we had multiple meetings with
their unions to make sure they were comfortable with our solution and
showing them why it isn’t intrusive and that we don’t store a database
of templates. It’s stored on the individual’s smartcard and only they
have it. With the encrypted personal template on the smart card, the
scanner communicates with Identica’s Universal Controller (the UC-2)
and biometrically verifies the user with the stored template. We’ve
really identified privacy as a key advantage to our product.

SP&T News: In terms of overall acceptance what would you say is the main concern?
TW: The common question we have
had was ‘What are we going to do with the template?’ We explained what
we extract, which is only the zeros and ones of their vascular image
and that we never store their vascular pattern, just a numerical
representation of that and never on the network. What they were very
concerned about was how the fingerprint could be use. They also wanted
to know how we extract it – we use near infrared, which is not harmful
at all. Some people think they are being X-rayed but that’s not it at
all.

SP&T News: What about cost? How does vascular compare to the total cost of other biometric technology?
TW: If you’re just comparing
the cost of the device, which I don’t like to do – we talk about the
total cost of owning the solution, but the cost of the device is
comparable to hand geometry, less expensive than iris and a little more
than fingerprint biometric technology.


SP&T News: Why do you think it has taken so long to help people get over the scary factor of biometrics?
TW: It’s funny, I was involved
with a fingerprint solution before I got to identica and I always
thought it would go quicker than it has. But there are two factors,
when I first got involved in biometrics there were just devices, they
weren’t solutions yet. If you were to buy a printer but it didn’t
connect to the computers you had how useful is that? A lot of the early
biometric devices early on – even five years ago – didn’t make it easy
for people to implement them. In that give years the biometric
technology has evolved significantly in terms of how well it works in
identifying people but also what Identica has done is built solutions
around the scanner and the algorithm to make it integrate with whatever
the customer has in legacy systems and what they’re also looking to
implement using networks and IP-based solutions and the solutions today
is ready to be implemented in any environment whereas five years ago
that was not the case.
People are now seeing biometrics in all parts of their life – they see it more often on computer and are more accepting of that.

SP&T News: What do you think is going to be the next wave of use for biometrics?
TW: In general we will see it
occur more in user environments like ATMs in North America. There are
applications in stores and there will be more general use applications.
The banking application is for people who are worried about identity
theft. Putting in a PIN has been proven time and again to be unsecure
and I think people would be very willing to use a biometric to identify
themselves at a bank. I think our technology is the best at doing that
if you think about a bank going out to customers to give up a
fingerprint and I think you’re going to have a lot of people who will
have issues with that. I think they are willing to use fingerprint for
some applications, such as a laptop, but I don’t see the banks doing
that and I think vascular has huge potential in that market.

SP&T News: What other markets do you think will be more attracted to biometrics in the future?
TW: We’re doing implementations
at police forces for evidence rooms. We do have a police force in
Canada using it and one in New York. We are going to continue with the
ports and we will be looking to the OEM market much more significantly
than we have in the past – the various access control suppliers to get
access to their channels. We’re expanding both in North and South
America and we just added a distributor in Mexico and one in Spain.

SP&T News: Would you say the port projects are the biggest ones worldwide?
TW: Yes, and we had a lot of
implementations but all of our technology has been implemented at the
ports – our scanners, our smart card controllers, and software and
we’ve implemented some custom applications and our outdoor enclosure –
all integrated with their existing access control systems.