Justice seeks faster fingerprint tech

Feds put muscle and money behind the development of better fingerprint and palm print technologies.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is close to awarding several proposals to build advanced prototype technologies that will capture fingerprints and palm prints more rapidly and accurately.

Christopher Miles, senior program manager in NIJ’s Science and Technology Office, said the agency plans to award three proposals soon, and the Homeland Security Department is expected to fund one of them as part of the Fast Capture Finger/Palm Print program. The total project budget is estimated to be $7.5 million.

The program, conceived in January 2004, involves the Justice Department, DHS, the Defense Department and several other agencies. The intent is to spur development of new technologies quicker and more reliable than current fingerprint and palm print devices.

Miles said it currently takes about four to 10 minutes to capture one set of 10 rolled fingerprints. Federal officials want prototypes that can capture 10 rolled fingerprints in less than 15 seconds and other technologies that can record 10 rolled fingerprints and palm prints in less than a minute.

According to the program’s criteria, prototypes are expected to meet or exceed FBI and National Institute of Standards and Technology image specifications and have reduced failure-to-enroll rates, he said.

During a discussion about biometrics at NIJ’s Annual Conference on Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation July 18 in Washington, D.C., Miles outlined three types of technologies that have been proposed.

One is a U-shaped flexible sensor, or a thin silicon sensor, which would conform to the fingers, he said. There are also two camera-based systems that would take multiple high-resolution flash images of fingers and palms. The third type is a circular optical mirror system in which fingers are drawn across the device and an image is created, he said.

Each funded proposal is expected to produce a prototype within 18 months to two years that is suitable for independent testing, Miles said.

He said funding has been somewhat difficult to get because most departmental budgets have been established already. Although there has been a lot of skepticism about the project, Miles said starting the research and development project now was necessary to get that leap in technology.

Even if the project is successful, it still might optimistically take five years to produce viable devices that can be deployed, he said.

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