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Synaptics fingerprint biometrics to make commercial debut in evolving auto market



When Biometric Update spoke to Synaptics Director of Concept Prototyping Dr. Andrew Hsu and a colleague about fingerprint biometrics in automobiles a year ago, the company was optimistic that fingerprint biometrics would soon be added to dashboards, enhancing the capabilities of center consoles to fend off apps from smartphone companies.

The first generation of cars with integrated fingerprint sensors are about to arrive, but the details of what implementations will be like even a few years in the future is somewhat uncertain.

Engagement with OEMs is especially strong in the automotive industry, Hsu says, but there are a lot of moving pieces to get aligned within the ecosystem, particularly for cloud biometrics.

Synaptics advocates for Match-in-Sensor systems, as previously reported, not because they may be easier to coordinate with the whole ecosystem, according to Hsu, but even more because of the security benefit of this approach.

“It’s one of the first steps in terms of making sure that the ecosystem and the industry understand that we are very concerned about security,” he explains. “That’s one of the reasons why we started to move our strategy more towards the Match-in-Sensor implementation.”

While aligning the ecosystem is complex, integrating the company’s fingerprint system-on-chip (SoC) with the vehicle’s on-board system itself is no longer really an issue.

“Most cars are already mobile computers these days, so its no different than trying to access a laptop or a desktop with a fingerprint sensor,” Hsu says with a laugh. “The infrastructure’s already there for a security mechanism.”

Part of Synaptics vision for automotive biometrics is to control personalization, not just for seat positioning and music playlists, but multiple engine-control modes or geo-fencing, for when a teenager borrows the car, for example. Perhaps more importantly, OEMs could store customer settings in the cloud, and download them to the customer’s new car when they upgrade, building brand loyalty as smartphone companies do now. This trend of personalization and brand loyalty is moving from smartphones and consumer electronics to the auto industry, according to Hsu, as manufacturers strategize how to differentiate their offerings and build loyalty. In the future, biometrics could be used for applications like in-car payments, but further infrastructure would have to be developed by other stakeholders, and as Hsu points out, the auto industry tends to be conservative when it comes to making changes, compared to tech.

“The rest of the other attributes that we conceptualize are going to be an ongoing process,” he says. “There’s definitely going to be a bit of wait and see, but once it’s out there, the hope is that everyone will begin to understand the benefits of the technology for various types of applications.”

Some of those applications will be well-served by other biometric modalities, Hsu admits, suggesting that different authentication modes will complement each other in future vehicles. Comfort levels and technical performance barriers will likely require different methods for different applications, or even for different use conditions for the same application.

“There will be this period of exploration that happens live on the market, to see the benefits and limitations of each, but we’re confidant that the fingerprint sensor, given its track record in mobile phones, is certainly going to be a key modality at least within the first generation of the biometrics released in automobiles.”

Other biometrics that could be used in cars include facial and voice recognition, but also heartbeat or EKG recognition.

Hsu describes strong engagement between potential auto industry customers and Synaptics, with uptake of projects involving the company’s fingerprint sensors, with the most advanced partnership about to yield a commercial implementation announcement.

“At this point the only thing that we can say with any certainty is to expect a model year 2020 announcement, so by the end of this year, for an automobile with our fingerprint sensor.”

Pulling off commercial integrations means working closely with car companies and their suppliers, but like the personalization trend, Hsu sees parallels is some aspects of this ecosystem to the mobile phone and PC markets, where Synaptics has long navigated the concerns of different partners.

“However that spark is initiated, basically the conversations pull in all three,” Hsu explains. “The OEMs are in charge of the user experience and why this is necessary, the ODMs or the tier-1s are into the nuts and bolts of how secure it is, how to wire it up, and then there’s us, focused on the actual sensor as well as the underlying system. That’s why these things take so long, because oftentimes there are challenges along the way from each of the partner’s perspectives.” The full ecosystem is even more complicated.

While it will take time, and evolve along the way, adoption in the auto industry could accelerate with the yet-unnamed commercial launch exposing customers to a new way of securing and interacting with their vehicles. Hsu believes that with its success, authentication in automobiles will soon be like mobile phones and PCs, bringing a whole new segment online for commercial sales of biometric hardware and software.

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