An overview of the top six commercialized biometric authentication technologies
Whose “best of times” are we currently in
“The best of times” refers to the accelerating development of the biometric authentication market. Research data indicates that the global biometrics market is slated to grow from US$15 billion in 2016 to US$30.5 billion in 2021, a compound annual growth rate of 15.3%. The Chinese market will also reach 34 billion dollars in 2021, with up to 23% annual growth between 2016 and 2020. Every technology has the opportunity to shine in this surge of exponential growth.
“The worst of times” means that, as people become increasingly interested in biometric technology, competition is also escalating. Yesterday’s blue sea may today be red. All technologies must become commercialized as soon as possible, because one faltering step may leave you in the shadows of the better able and successful.
Figure 1, Global biometrics market scale (Data source: Forward Business and Intelligence Co., Ltd.)
Therefore, we will try to outline the commercial future for the current top six mainstream biometric authentication technologies from the aspects of technology and market.
This is the technology of comparing the defining traits of patterns ingrained in the skin of your fingertips; it is also the biometric authentication technology with the longest history of development. Fingerprint authentication has undergone multiple reconfigurations including infrared, capacitive, and radio frequency fingerprinting, and is probably the thoroughly understood of all biometric authentication technologies. It is easily utilized in sophisticated commercial solutions and freely incorporated into target applications.
From a market perspective, ever since the iPhone 5s incorporated fingerprint authentication into its identity verification system, the technology has been on the fast track of development and in turn driving advancement of the overall biometrics market. In the future, fingerprint authentication will become the “standard” for an increasing variety of products, such as smart locks and car access, therefore overall market scale will maintain a certain level of growth. Even as other biometric authentication technologies emerge, fingerprint is still expected to occupy more than 50% market share.
This recognition authentication technology is based on the identification of human facial features, and is currently the top trending biometric technology. Especially after iPhone X employed Face ID technology, facial recognition applications have been popping up one after the other although their degrees of success may vary greatly.
Compared to other technologies, facial recognition is fast and accurate. And it entails a contactless mode of recognition, users don’t experience the discomfort of coming into touch with “foreign objects.” The technology is for this reason more easily accepted. The biggest commercial challenge for facial recognition at the moment is the technological sophistication it requires. Both hardware and software development require substantial expertise, especially “depth-mapping,” high accuracy 3D recognition methods like Face ID. Facial recognition won’t be budget-friendly or applicable to a great variety of solutions like fingerprint authentication is in the foreseeable future. However, following its “touchdown” in consumer products like mobile phones, its subsequent development is something to look forward to.
Figure 2, Common technological procedures for biometric authentication (Data source: Internet)
Iris recognition became an important approach to biometric authentication upon discovery that, under infrared light, human irises display complex patterns that barely change throughout a person’s entire lifetime. Irises are much more characteristic than fingerprints or facial features, and iris recognition is generally agreed to be the most precise form of biometric authentication to date. Difficulty in falsification, user-friendliness, and that fact that it is also a form of contactless authentication all constitute iris recognition’s core advantages. Countries such as India, Mexico, and Indonesia have for this reason made iris recognition part of their national ID. Samsung also made iris recognition one of the distinguishing features of its Note7, S8, and S8+ flagship models.
However, iris recognition samples only a small area in an important organ, and requires infrared or visible light to be shone into the eyes, considerably affecting the degree to which users will embrace this technology. Applications will be more limited in terms of both scope and scale, with less likeliness of lowering total cost—one of the fatal shortcomings of iris recognition commercialization.
In contrast with other biometric authentications, which retrieve specific image features and compare them with those on record, voice identification retrieves the different sound characteristics when people speak, and create sound-wave graphs. Voice identification also requires no contact and is simple to collect, even remotely retrievable. The hardware is easy to obtain as well, adding to the appeal of voice identification in the biometrics market. It is now firmly established in second place for market share, just after fingerprint authentication.
Naturally, voice identification is particularly vulnerable to changes in the user’s speaking speed and tone, and is also easier to falsify. Due to these shortcomings, voice recognition is used mostly as a supplement to other (biometric) identification technologies for achieving higher accuracy and security.
As human red blood cells have the ability to absorb infrared light, we can create vessel images by shining particular wavelengths of light on the veins (usually in the hands). Since all of us have different vein structures, these images can be used for identification. Vein recognition has two main distinctive features that sets it apart from the above mentioned biometric authentication technologies. The first is that the images cannot be displayed, and can therefore not be obtained and forged; the second is that it only works when blood is flowing, so it also identifies life. Consequently, vein recognition, along with retinal recognition which we will explore later, is also known as a “second generation” biometric authentication technology.
These distinctive features also mean that vein recognition requires much more sophisticated biometric collection methods and equipment, therefore its commercial applications will be for secure payment, ATM withdraws, pension grants, and other financial and insurance related usages that require higher reliability. Expansion to a wider range of commercial uses will not be happening for some time.
This is a method for capturing biometrics by scanning the retina with low intensity infrared light. As the retina is “hidden” inside the body, it has stable biometric features that are difficult to falsify. This technology has however not yet been sufficiently verified, and further evidence on whether the process of biometric collection will cause physical damage to the user remains to be determined. Therefore this technology is also the farthest from full-scale commercialization among all available technologies. Yet, in anticipation of future applications in certain specific scenarios, it is still worth exploring.
Looking at the next 3-5 years, the mainstream market will still be occupied by fingerprint, facial and voice identification, and competition among the three will become increasingly heated. But the market will also become increasingly diversified, especially as the emergence of new applications will translate into commercial opportunities for a greater variety of biometric authentication technologies. Whether the future will be the “best of times” for each individual technology, however, depends on the amount of work businesses are willing to invest today.
Figure 3, Global biometrics market layout (Data source: Forward Business and Intelligence Co., Ltd.)