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Forget fingerprint scanning, patent filing indicates Samsung could bring iris detection to Android

A newly surfaced patent filing suggests that Samsung is working on iris recognition technology, a method that's considerably more secure than fingerprint scanning.
November 20, 2013
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As you might already know, the iPhone 5S recently arrived to the market with a fingerprint scanner in tow. While not a  first for mobile, Apple still touted it as a revolutionary new way to improve device security, and since then we’ve seen companies like HTC follow suit with their own fingerprint reading devices.

Of course there are those that say that fingerprint scanners are more of a gimmick than anything, and that the potential security risks outweigh any possible benefit. While all forms of biometric scanning pose a certain level of risk, it’s a lot easier to steal a copy of someone’s fingerprint than it is to steal an eyeball.

With that in mind, a new Samsung patent for advanced iris identification technology has now surfaced, thanks to the efforts of Patent Bolt.

While all forms of biometric scanning pose a certain level of risk, it’s a lot easier to steal a copy of someone’s fingerprint than it is to steal an eyeball.

Up until now, iris scanning has largely been considered too expensive of a technology for it to be practical in mobile devices, and was further limited because the technology didn’t work with all types of irises. The reason for this is that the most common form of iris scanning utilizes a flash of light to scan the iris, which apparently doesn’t work for people who don’t possess sufficient melanin pigments.

Although there is a way around this using a built-in infrared ray illumination system, this method adds additional cost and such a system isn’t practical (weight and bulk-wise) for a mobile device.

In order to improve scan rates and get around any potential downsides to iris detection, Samsung’s newly patented method combines a light emitting device with a proximity sensor, which apparently provides an effective, cheaper method that works with all types of irises. There’s obviously a bit more to it than that, but that’s the gist of the idea.


Why choose iris detection over fingerprint scanning?

Okay, so Samsung has found a way to make iris detection possible on a mobile device, but what advantage does it carry over fingerprint scanning? For starters, it’s substantially more secure. The reason for this is that the iris has a large number of unique patterns, making it much harder to ‘fake’.

Beyond that, iris identification is a quicker, easier process that takes less than 2 seconds and requires no direct contact. It also doesn’t matter if you are wearing glasses or contacts, the technology will still work — you certainly can’t say the same when it comes to using gloves with a fingerprint reader.

How does this differ from retina scanning?

We’ve all seen the movie scenes where someone puts their eye down onto a retina scanner and the red beam of light effectively scans the eye, gaining a movie character access to a secret facility or super-secure safe. That’s not what’s going on with Samsung’s iris detection tech.

Retinal scanning is much more obtrusive than iris scanning, and arguably no more secure because a retina can change over time due to disease and other issues, whereas an iris stays the same.

While both techs are very secure and revolve around eye scanning, iris detection really works more like typical face recognition, in that it basically just “takes a picture” of the iris and then scans it for a match. The biggest difference is that this approach is much harder to fake than something like face unlock.

When might we see this tech put to use?

That’s a good question. There have already been several rumors suggesting we could see eye scanning in the Samsung Galaxy S5, alongside a 64-bit processor and 560ppi display — but that’s far from definitive proof.

It’s not inconceivable that we could see an iris scanner in the Galaxy S5 or even the Galaxy Note 4, but really there’s no way to say for sure. Bottom-line is that Samsung will introduce the tech when they feel it is sufficiently ready.

What do you think, do you like the idea of iris detection over fingerprint scanning? Conversely, do you feel it’s better to stick to traditional passwords as opposed to biometric authentication?