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UC San Diego researchers unveil non-touch optical technology for infant fingerprinting


The device, called ION, is a non-contact optical scanning technology that can image fingers and the palm of the hand.

University of California San Diego researchers have unveiled their non-touch optical capture device for newborn fingerprinting, which they say can capture fingerprints from the day of birth.

The team that developed the ION device departed from traditional approaches to infant fingerprint identification, which tend to extrapolate technologies for adults to apply them to children. Instead, the team applied a human-centered design approach, and took the physiology and reflexes of young children into account, along with cultural factors to make the device acceptable in different countries.

“We think we’ve solved the problem of infant identification for both developed and developing countries,” said Eliah Aronoff-Spencer, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine, UC San Diego School of Medicine and the Qualcomm Institute at UC San Diego. “This new technology allows for quick, accurate fingerprinting that may eliminate the need for paper identification and improve health care and security for millions.”

The device is currently undergoing Institution Review Board-approved clinical trials at UC San Diego and in Mexico, with preliminary results indicating better than 99 percent accuracy for re-identification as early as two days after birth, and 90 percent accuracy for registration on the day an infant is born. The next stage is trials in South Asia and in Kenya, where it will be applied to tracking treatments for children born to mothers with HIV.

ION captures finger and palm images with non-touch optical scanning technology, and stores prints as encrypted templates that can be shared securely across platforms. It is rugged, portable, and works with laptops and mobile platforms. It also works with adults, and the researchers are developing capabilities to measure a range of clinical data, including temperature, pulse, breathing, and oxygen levels, potentially making it a multi-purpose, all-ages clinical identification and assessment device.

Michael Kleeman, a senior fellow at UC San Diego and part of the team working on ION told Biometric Update that the device uses different colors of light and algorithms to capture different kind of information, with some processes running concurrently and some sequentially.

Infant fingerprinting has long been a challenge for the biometrics industry, with even the theoretical possibility of fingerprinting young children up for debate until it was proven relatively recently that the physical characteristic is adequately developed prior to birth. Kleeman says that very young children sometimes have a thin film over the skin of their hands and fingers, which presents one of the final hurdles in capturing prints from newborns.

“As kids get older, we are able identify them with one digit, and with very young children sometimes it takes two,” Kleeman says.

Spencer says the device may reach the market in 12 months, after further platform validation and work on workflow, security and ethical issues.

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