From Touch to Touchless - How Fingerprint Scanners are Adapting to a Contactless World

Boon Edam Blog | August 2020

From voice to face recognition, you don’t have to look far to see how advances in biometrics have shaped our approach to security in recent years. Previously confined to the realm of sci-fi, or only reserved for the richest of individuals and businesses, advances in technology have led to many biometric security options being a far more affordable, and importantly, more secure, option for many businesses and institutions.

Yet with the current changes our world faces, with the need for social distancing and the like, biometric security must adapt, and one area that is stepping up to the challenge of a touchless future is that of fingerprint scanners. 

What is a Biometric Finger Scanner?

A biometric finger scanner is a form of authorisation in which the system scans and registers a unique pattern on an individual’s fingerprint. This print is then compared with a stored data entry of authorised users; if it matches, the system can then grant the user access.

When we think about the types of biometric finger scanners, many of us immediately think of our mobile phones, and for good reason. Mertactor estimates that currently 41% of smartphone users use some form of biometric authorisation with their phone, with fingerprint readers leading the charge when it comes to the biometric option of choice. By 2024, Mercator expects this number to increase to 66%.

Outside of mobile security, biometric fingerprint scanners are often found in the realms of physical security, where they are used to physically allow, or prevent, access to specific areas of a building. From revolving doors to speed gates, businesses now have the option to enhance their security through the addition of biometric fingerprint scanners. 

How do fingerprint scanners work?

While businesses have the freedom to choose which security entrance is the best fit for their building, there is also the choice of which type of fingerprint scanner to incorporate. Fingerprint scanners have traditionally been broken down into three different categories, which include:

Optical fingerprint scanners

The first and oldest method of capturing a fingerprint, optical scanners work by capturing a photographic image of the user's fingerprint and then comparing this print with what is stored in the database.

While the cameras used to capture the fingerprint provide far more detailed images than you could capture on your mobile phone or DSLR camera, the fact the scanner relies on a photo means the image could easily be manipulated, meaning tricking the system could prove possible with the right photograph. As a result, optical fingerprint scanners are rarely used these days.

Capacitive fingerprint scanners

In response to this, the capacitive fingerprint scanner was made to help improve the level of security given to businesses. Using a capacitor, the scanner is able to store a small electronic charge which is altered once the user places their fingerprint on the sensor.

When this happens, the changes are stored in the form of a small piece of digital data, which forms the basis of your electronic fingerprint. This data is then analysed and matched against the system; if there is a match, the user will be granted access.

Capacitive scanners are perhaps the most common form of fingerprint scanners on the market currently, which is largely the result of their ease of use, as well as the fact they are very difficult to manipulate, due to the capacitor being able to notice even the smallest changes on the sensor.

Ultrasonic fingerprint scanners

More commonly found in modern smartphones, but still also found in physical security options, ultrasonic fingerprint scanners work by taking advantage of ultrasonic pulses. Once a finger is presented to the scanner, a continuous pulse is sent out, some of which is absorbed by the sensor. 

Much like the charge found in a capacitive scanner, the ultrasonic scanner’s pulse will be slightly different depending on the user. This pulse is then checked against the database.

The one advantage ultrasonic fingerprint scanners have over capacitive scanners is that ultrasonic scanners can scan for longer periods of time, by adjusting the length of the pulse. A longer scan equals a more detailed scan, meaning ultrasonic scanners are typically more reliable and secure than capacitive scanners.

Introducing contactless fingerprint scanners

While these three types of fingerprint scanners offer a number of differences, they all share a key similarity in that they all require the user to physically touch their finger against a reader or scanner. 

With the importance of social distancing, having a hotspot where multiple members of staff are forced to touch to enter and exit areas of a building leaves managers with the difficult job of enforcing security, while also keeping both staff and visitors safe.

To combat this, touchless entry entrances that work without the need for physical contact are being seen as a popular choice, to help eliminate the need for contact to grant access to a building. Touchless options have long existed; the difficulty, however, lies in balancing it with suitable security options.

For example, the traditional touchless entry is a swing door with hand-wave sensors for automatic entry. While this method does work to create a touchless environment, it leaves an organisation vulnerable to infiltration due to unauthorised entry, such as through tailgating or piggybacking. 

Similarly, automatic doors are a common feature of buildings, operating through a preset time delay to avoid the door closing early on a user.  While safety sensors ensure the door reopens if someone stands within the passageway, it’s this vulnerability that can lead to unauthorised users entering, too.

The advantages of contactless fingerprint scanners

The solution is to combine contactless solutions with high levels of security, something Boon Edam UK is proud to champion as a result of our partnership with Idemia and their unique contactless fingerprint scanner, the MorphoWave Compact.

Using the latest in security technology, the MorphoWave Compact allows users to access the scanner with a simple wave of the hand. Upon inspection, the contactless scanner scans four fingers simultaneously, quickly building a 3D image in less than a second and determining whether the scan is a match.

Alongside speed and efficiency, contactless fingerprint scanners like the MorphoWave Compact offer a reduction in energy usage, an enhanced user experience, and most importantly, a greatly reduced risk of infection and cross-contamination through the use of contactless scanning.

Contactless fingerprint scanners for your business

For more information on our security entryways and how they can be incorporated with contactless fingerprint scanners, be sure to download our latest ‘Touchless Solutions’ brochure. Alternatively, contact us today for more information.

© Royal Boon Edam International B.V.