Contactless fingerprinting has reached the stage in its maturity of laboratories pioneering independent testing from biometrics developers at the forefront of bringing the technology to market. BixeLab’s report on the matching performance of Tech5’s contactless fingerprint software shows the accuracy is making its deployment suitable for some use cases, BixeLab Founder and CEO Ted Dunstone told Biometric Update in an interview.
The video call also included Tech5 Research Scientist Vishesh Mistry and Vice President of International Marketing Yulia Thomas in a discussion about the report and the state of the art in contactless fingerprints.
Tech5’s contactless fingerprint technology has reached the point of practical usefulness for certain applications, the test results indicate. The report shows it delivered a false non-match rate (FNMR) of 5.8 percent at a false match rate (FMR) of 0.54 percent in a test matching contactless probe images against contactless reference templates.
“As it’s maturing, it’s going to need a lot more independent validation to make sure that the claims of vendors are meeting reality,” Dunstone says. “So, I think there will be a need for a lot more testing to be done.”
How the test was developed and conducted
For the small-scale, initial test, BixeLab set out to match contactless fingerprints against a reference database of contact fingerprints, and another one of contactless prints. BixeLab enrolled all ten fingerprints from 26 people for the contactless-to-contactless evaluation, and 27 for the contactless-to-contact evaluation. The prints were considered separately, with no fusion or associated identity.
This means “each fingerprint considered as a unique identity,” Mistry explains. “The fundamentals remain the same, regardless of the modality,” for testing any biometric, Dunstone says. It needs to be meaningful for the stated end purpose of the technology, have the right amount of statistical significance, and cover the claims being made. Tech5 had already developed its Android and iOS applications, so there was not a lot of back and forth between the company and the lab as the test was being set up, Mistry says. He and Dunstone agree that the process of integrating the technology with the test system was fairly straight-forward, due to the requirements of the application.
Ease of use for layman was a “main requirement” for many Tech5 clients, Mistry says. The image is captured by the user framing their fingers against oval shapes, with the app giving feedback on distance and other factors. BixeLab found that Tech5’s contactless fingerprint technology delivered a 5.2 percent FNMR at an FMR of 0.02 percent when matching against fingerprint templates captured with contact-based scanners.
These results show the technology has reached the point of practical effectiveness – at least in lab settings.
For next steps, “there’s a need for wider-scale testing to demonstrate efficacy in field situations,” Dunstone says.
Many of the potentially valuable civil use cases for contactless fingerprints involve enrolling or matching people far from central offices and digital infrastructure.
“Demonstrating utility in those challenging environments is perhaps one of the next frontiers of the independent testing,” Dunstone speculates.
Mistry says that anecdotal evidence from field tests performed by police in the UK suggests the technology is ready for those tests as well.
“They were actually very happy, because even with those bad lighting conditions or with actual human beings who had no idea of the app and were using it for the first time, even for them it was very easy and fluid,” he says. “All they had to do was make sure that the fingers are positioned correctly, and once you do that, you have a very good output fingerprint image.”
In the meantime, standards for contactless fingerprint capture are in development. Standards take a long time, but “there’s certainly a lot of discussion around contactless fingerprints and what standardization processes are required,” says Dunstone.
NIST confirmed the interoperability of contactless fingerprints with contact-enrolled templates in 2021.
Current and future applications
BixeLab’s test provides evidence for generalized accuracy under reasonable acquisition conditions, Dunstone explains.
Mistry says it shows that even contactless to contactless fingerprint accuracy is good at this point, just not as good as contactless to reference templates captured with contact systems. Both types of matches are also rapidly becoming more accurate.
“Within a few more years, we’re very confident that contactless fingerprint matching will be at par with contact matching,” Mistry says.
As that process unfolds, Dunstone says, it is important to check the claims being made, as in any new area.
Comparing contactless fingerprints to contact-based ones aligns with law enforcement uses.
For now, an appropriate use case is to ramp up to contact comparison in the case of an apparent near-match.
At the same time, making research results available helps to make sure that the user community is aware of what is different from contact fingerprints.
“You can’t just throw out your contact stuff and just move everything to contactless,” Dunstone cautions. “What this shows is the technology is very promising, it’s got some great use cases, but just like everything, it’s important to know how it can be applied or where it should be applied.”
Highlighting appropriate and not-yet appropriate applications for a given new technology is one of the key values of testing, he says.
Over time, Mistry sees a “plethora” of applications. Thomas notes that there are “way more applications” where contactless fingerprinting holds potential in civil ID than law enforcement.
Many companies are already using the technology, she says, and “waiting for their opportunity to announce it.” Mistry says Tech5 also has interest from government clients, and points out that the FBI is planning to research contactless fingerprint technology, with an eye towards future deployments.
For civil ID applications, contactless fingerprinting can complement other modalities, and in the longer run, Thomas says it could be used in any application where face is used today. Stored on Tech5’s digital ID cryptograph, it can be used to prove an individual’s assertions about ownership, qualifications, or a whole range of identity-related areas.
“Our contactless capture was first born with this idea,” Thomas says.
The road to realizing such lofty ambitions is dotted with more tests, for Tech5 and other developers of contactless fingerprint biometrics.