Fingerprints are practically synonymous with identity. The unique ridges and whorls on the tips of your finger have been distinguishing one person from another since 1788, when German anatomist Johann Christoph Andreas Mayer discovered that every fingerprint is different.
Fingerprint readers do exactly what their name describes. Using optical, capacitive, or ultrasound sensor technology, they measure the characteristics of a fingerprint. This can be used to identify an individual by comparing the scanned print to many different templates stored in a database, as is commonly done with criminal background checks, or it can be done on a one-to-one basis in order to authenticate a user.
Fingerprint biometrics are a standard security feature on smartphones today, and as the consumer-facing industry demands larger, buttonless screens, innovations in sensor technology are now enabling in-display biometrics. Fingerprint biometrics can also be used to secure payments on smartphones with Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Google Pay, and similar wallet apps.
Thanks to the widespread availability of consumer grade fingerprint sensors on smartphones, the average user is becoming familiar with the modality as it continues to proliferate digital security and identity across all manner of vertical markets. Wall mounted access control terminals, police squad cars, patient sign-in areas at clinics—these are all areas where biometric fingerprint readers have been deployed.
The automotive industry, too, is increasingly turning to biometrics to address security concerns, and solutions designed to bring fingerprint security to connected cars have begun to emerge. In some countries it has become mandatory to enroll a fingerprint in order to open a cellphone account; other places require fingerprints to vote in elections. And soon, fingerprints are set to replace credit card PINs as biometrics sensors are integrated into smart cards.
Fingerprint readers are all around us, ushering us into a new era of identity.