Siemens launched the prototype for a new FingerTip sensor last week at the Smartcard 98 exhibition. The company, which is aiming to fit the sensor to smartcards to provide security for a broad range of products, is already talking to the government about possible security uses for the sensor. The sensor, which is implemented on a single silicon chip, will read and evaluate the fingerprint in real time from surface contact. The chip picks up the differences between the peaks and troughs of the finger to create electrical signals which can be transmitted and compared to the original print. The prototype is based on standard CMOS technology and using a resolution of 500dpi, the current standard for fingerprint recognition systems, according to Siemens. The sensor was designed to be small enough to fit into smartcards to provide more secure access to products like computers, cars, automatic cash machines and mobile phones. Siemens claims portability and lower cost as important advantages over more cumbersome existing security methods. While Graham Nott, Siemens' chip card IC manager, admitted that "the enrolment process for users would need to be carefully managed to avoid doubts", he argued that the process proves the security of smart cards. "People have been asking about how secure the smartcard really is," said Nott. "An integrated fingerprint sensor would turn each personal card into a unique item ensuring that nobody but the authorised owner can use it." Siemens expects the first commercial version of the sensor to be launched this autumn. The company is targeting the government as a possible customer. However, the Communications Electronic Security Group (ESG), the division which ensures the security of government systems, has not not yet defined its use of biometric security processes. A CESG spokeswoman said: "While we are looking at biometric ideas, and working with the developers, it would be something for the future. No approvals have been made yet."
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