Interview with Hemant Mardia, CEO, IDEX ASA

Interview with Hemant Mardia, CEO, IDEX ASAMobile ID World President Peter O’Neill recently spoke with Dr. Hemant Mardia, CEO of IDEX. The conversation begins with an in-depth discussion of the biometric smart card market, in which IDEX is a significant player, providing fingerprint sensors for the biometric Mastercard. The interview then broadens to the larger picture in mobility, namely: how IDEX sees its role in the biometric Internet of Things space, and what opportunities it’s seizing there. Inevitably, talk turns back to the biometric smart card market when Mardia lays out some of IDEX’s recent big innovations int he space, and previews some of the technologies his company is bringing to market.

Read our full interview with Hemant Mardia, CEO, IDEX ASA:

Peter O’Neill, President, Mobile ID World: The smart card biometric market is really one that has come out of almost nowhere in the last two years, and grown quite dramatically, and it’s gaining tremendous traction as we saw recently at Money20/20 in Vegas. What’s driving this, and why is it moving so quickly?

Dr. Hemant Mardia, CEO, IDEX: I think two things: first of all the explosive growth of biometrics in mobile triggered by Apple’s introduction to Touch ID about four years ago. We’re now in a situation where biometrics are widely used and adopted in mobile devices; almost every mobile device now has a fingerprint biometric. So first of all, we have great user adoption. People are familiar with using biometrics and getting used to the convenience it enables, not needing to remember PINs and passwords, which is a bane of most people’s lives.

And then the second, I think, critical factor when we look at what that means in cards is that we see Mastercard as a market maker. They have been working on a biometric program for a number of years. So, for them, the ability to create and influence the whole ecosystem and really grow adoption which is needed. The market for biometric cards needs a sponsor, and we see Mastercard as being that sponsor.  And then from what they have seen in IDEX is that our technology allows many of the conflicting constraints that you have within a card to be addressed with a biometric. In our case, a fingerprint sensor. So, I think those combination of elements from our side we’re seeing as enabling Mastercard to take a biometric card to market, and once that pioneering is in full flow, which it is now, of course that’s attracting many of the other large plays in the ecosystem to go ahead and see this as a growth opportunity.

Mobile ID World: You mentioned Mastercard, we had Ajay Bhalla on a panel last year talking about this particular area, and we do see them as tremendous innovators in this space, and really one of the leaders in the financial sector with regard to biometrics. Now, we have talked about the market for biometric cards, you also have a focus on mobile – which is an established market – and IoT which is probably part of the newer side of the equation. Let’s talk about the IoT space. Which vertical segments are you focusing on in the IoT space?

IDEX: IoT covers a really broad spectrum so, really what the correct question, Peter, is what does IoT mean to us? The areas that are really interesting to us are the ones that leverage our card solutions. We are providing technology that solves a few problems in cards: one is low power, the second is great usability, and the third can be security. We want to leverage where we have commonality to those, because IoT is still fragmented and an emerging opportunity. So, we want to have a very selected approach to IoT, and some really interesting opportunities are to do with access control, meaning lock products. We have a partner in that side called BIO-key who are bringing to market some really interesting different forms of locks incorporating our sensor, and clearly in that case the usability is really important. So, our technology fits into these low power high usability cases.

We are typically looking for other opportunities in things that are going to be scaling in volume. We are also interested in some other applications where you can either use, for example, a fingerprint sensor to provide a dongle that can then be connected to other devices and then use that to authenticate multiple different devices by a standard interface. So, for example we have a USB dongle product with the same partner, and we see that broadening into other access control type opportunities.

At the moment there are multiple other areas, I think, as we go to the future. We are seeing wearables as a really interesting space for us, because our sensors are thin and flexible with low power. Being able to use that authentication on a wearable is something that I think is going to be developing quite well.

So, those are the sort of the applications, but I think every day we see some new applications, and one of our approaches is that we want to create an IoT module, a biometric module, and that would allow a lot of the innovation in IoT to come from smaller companies. What we want to do is enable them with a very supportable biometric module, and then they can let their imagination go, they can use their different insights into different markets and work with a biometric module.

Mobile ID World: You mentioned your partnership with the company BIO-key. I know them well as one of the world leaders in the biometric space, and I have seen their super cool locks. I think this consumer facing application is just fantastic, this is what we have been recommending to the industry for a long time so congratulations on that, I think it’s a smart way to move.

You are constantly innovating, especially with the new smart card market. Can you please update us on some of the latest achievements with regard to some of your newest technology that is coming out?

IDEX: Certainly. As you know, IDEX has a flexible fingerprint sensor based on our off-chip sensing technology. The sensor is made from a very thin polymer material and our first innovation was really to bring that as something that could be mass manufactured into a smart card. At the middle of this year, we launched our first low powered version, which is suitable for contactless. And one of the things we were really busy with at Money20/20 was demonstrating performance within a contactless environment, harvesting without the need for a battery – a battery-less solution. We have taken the power consumption down to a level which works within a contactless environment and I think that’s a big breakthrough because now we’ve got both a flexible and a low power fingerprint sensor. That was a really big step, and now what we’re doing is working with multiple players in the ecosystem to integrate that as a dual interface solution. And I think dual interface – as of course you would know – once you have the contact and contactless, it opens the door to many different card verticals, and I think that’s a really key step.

We have a really great innovation road map, we have some of the best technologists, some of which you know very well, including Fred Benkley who has really been a pioneer in this industry as our CTO. What we are focused on in terms of innovation is not just the sensor, but on other aspects of the total biometric solution for smart cards. To be very useable you have to operate quickly without a battery and that means you have to innovate not only on the sensor, but also on the matching solution. The software that lives within the card has to operate quickly and accurately. We have launched our own in-house proprietary matcher which is really state of the art. It is ultra compact, but with an incredible biometric performance with only a few percent FRR which is industry leading.

One that we’ve got coming which we’re going to get a lot excitement around is the enrollment piece. Again, for smart cards, we have to address the challenges of enrollment. One approach is clearly you enroll in a station at a branch or an office, but clearly making it convenient would require a customer to be able to self-enroll in the comfort of their own location or their own home. And we have an innovation that we’re coming with which allows that on-card enrollment to be very low cost, very straight forward. That’s really a sense of some of the innovations that we’re coming with.

Mobile ID World: Well, Hemant, thank you very much for filling us in. You’ve got a lot on the go. It’s an exciting time in our industry, and we really appreciate you carving out some time for us today.

IDEX: Thank you, Peter. I really appreciate your time.