|SCIENCE TRIBUNE||Thursday, March 14, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
NEW PRODUCTS &
know who you are!"
A PIN (personal identification number) may be guessed by an impostor; a passport or visa may be forged. In a world where people are becoming mobile, as well as connected electronically, and terrorists are striking at will, business enterprises and official agencies are turning more and more to biometrics for foolproof identification of persons and scrutiny of goods and services. Biometrics uses such unique personal identifiers as hand geometry or iris pattern...
Among the things that have changed for ever after the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington are the way corporations and official agencies deal with risk and security. As they come to terms with a world that is less secure than they thought, they have become pernickety about the inspection and scrutiny of goods, services and people crossing national borders. Increasingly, they are turning to biometric identification, which, after September 11, is viewed as a potentially legitimate means of authenticating IDs.. Biometrics, which has since been growing at 300 per cent annually, is now rated as among the 10 emerging technologies that will change the world.
In a move to standardise the procedure for scrutinising travel documents, the US government will soon begin comparing foreign visitors with their digitised photographs. Immigration officials at ports, looking at photographs on travel documents will be more certain that the photographs are those of the persons who stand before them. If a bill passed by the US Congress crosses the Senate, there will be mandatory, unique personal identifiers, such as digitised fingerprints on visas issued to travellers inside the USA as well as on passports issued by 29 nations. These moves were further spurred by the initial confusion over the identity of Richard Reid, a Briton accused of smuggling a shoe-bomb aboard a Paris-Miami bound airliner.
In India, following the December 13 attack on Parliament, there has been a crackdown on pre-paid cellphone cards, which normally can be picked up and used by customers without necessarily having to identify themselves. Pre-paid cellular phone cards were misused by the perpetrators of the December 13 outrage. Customers wanting to use pre-paid cellular phone cards will hereafter have to provide a proper identification like a passport photo, driving licence or a ration card.
Post-September 11, there has been a renewed focus in the USA on stringent measures for the issue of drivers’ licences. Most of the states currently require proof of legal residence, but because such documents can be easily forged, standardising the procedure is considered to be the best solution. California, for some years, has had the most stringent regulations. The state’s Motor Vehicles Department requires drivers to record their thumbprints digitally in its database. The idea is to eliminate tampering with, or faking of, licences.
Time was when transactions were done with pencil and paper or face-to-face. With people becoming connected electronically, there are identity frauds every day in welfare disbursements, credit card transactions, cellular phone calls and ATM withdrawals. In the USA, fraud in entitlement benefits has been estimated to amount to $ 10 billion annually. Questions such as "Is this the person he or she claims to be?" Or "Should this person be given access to our system?" come up every day before organisations in financial services, health care, e-commerce, telecommunications and government. Conversely, a person needs at times to establish, or authenticate, his identity. With many companies looking to decentralise their operations, it is even more important to verify that the person who is online or on the network is who he claims to be.
Traditionally, the two techniques widely used to authenticate identity are knowledge-based and token-based automatic personal identification Knowledge-based approaches use something known to the person, such as a password or a personal identification number (PIN). Token-based approaches involve things like a passport, driver’s licence, ID card, credit cards or keys. The drawbacks with these are that they may be stolen, lost, misplaced or forgotten. A PIN may be guessed by an impostor. Approximately 25 per cent of persons appear to write their PIN on their ATM card, thus defeating the purpose for which they were issued.
"Biometrics provides a better solution for the increased security requirements of our information society than traditional identification methods such as passwords and PIN", says Anil Jain, writing in Communication of the ACM. A biometric system makes a personal identification by establishing that a person’s physiological or behavioral characteristics are really his (or hers). The biometric sensor first scans the biometric characteristic of the individual in order to acquire a digital representation of the characteristic. A feature extractor then generates a compact but expressive representation called a "template", which may be stored in the central database of the biometric system or recorded on a magnetic card of smart card issued to the individual. To establish the identity of the individual, the biometric reader captures the characteristic of the individual and converts it to a digital format, which is further processed by the feature extractor to produce the same representation as the template.
There are various characteristics that belong to a person uniquely. Among these are his fingerprints, signature, hand and finger geometry, iris and retinal pattern, key-stroke, facial image (both optical and infrared), and voice.
In large fingerprint bureaus with millions of prints on record, electronic scanners are used to save time. The probability of any two fingerprints being identical is estimated to be one in 64,000 million. Fingerprints are expected to lead biometric applications in the near future. However, the average user jibs at giving his fingerprints, because the technique has traditionally been associated with criminal investigations and police work.
Retinal pattern: The veins beneath the retina of the eye (on which the optical image is formed) make a pattern that is unique as well as stable. It is therefore an accurate and useful characteristic for recognition.
Iris recognition: The complex visual texture of the iris (the annular region of the eye bounded by the pupil and the white of the eye is distinctive enough to identify individuals.
Hand geometry: Hand
geometry has been used in biometric systems used at hundreds of
locations around the world. They are easy to use and inexpensive.
Accuracy is not affected by environmental factors like dry weather or
individual anomalies like dry skin. However, hand information may vary
over a person’s life-span, especially during childhood; and the
large size of a hand geometry system rules out its use in laptop
NEW PRODUCTS & DISCOVERIES
Solotrek and skycar
Everybody dreams of flying. Leonardo da Vinci sketched dozens of prototypes for flying machines based on the anatomy of birds. The Wright brothers finally worked out the details four centuries later. Yet even in this age of space shuttles, supersonic jets and ultralight airplanes, the quest to build the perfect personal flying machine still lures the world's inventors. Nobody is pursuing the dream of solo flight with more fervour than two Americans, Paul Moller and Michael Moshier. They have very different ideas of what a personal flyer should look like, but each is equally convinced that his vision—decades in the works—is about to come true.
"I know in my heart that this technology is coming, and if I don't do it someone else will," says Moller, a mechanical and aeronautical engineer who has devoted nearly 40 years and $200 million to developing his flying car. Someday, he believes, people will launch Skycars from their rooftops and fly to work. His first model, built in 1962, looked like a flying saucer and never got off the ground. The current iteration, the M400, is painted hot-rod red and shaped like a miniature fighter plane. It is powered by eight 150-horsepower methanol-burning rotary engines, has a state-of-the-art, microprocessor-controlled steering system for increased stability and can reach top speeds of 350 m.p.h.—at least in theory. While no one outside the company has ever seen the Skycar fly, Moller claims it hovered about 10 ft. above the ground for a few seconds in a test flight last month.
Moshier's Solotrek XFV (short for Exo-Skeletor Flying Vehicle) has a comparable flight record: 8 in. above the ground for about 9 sec., according to the inventor. A former Navy combat pilot, Moshier has been working on his creation, at least in his mind, since he was a teenager in the 1960s, although officially his company, Millennium Jets, has been at it only six years. The look of his machine is pure sci-fi: an 8-ft. metal frame supports two gas-engine-powered fans, each 38 in. in diameter, that jut like oversize ears above the frame. The pilot stands on a pair of footrests, straps on a body belt and grabs a joy sticklike controller. Moshier says the Solotrek will someday travel 8,000 ft. above the trees at up to 80 m.p.h. "There are lots of nonbelievers," he admits. "But I always knew we could do this." Somebody at the Defence Department must agree; the Pentagon has invested $5 million in the project, and nasa's Ames Research Centre has offered Moshier the use of its wind tunnels.
Will either machine ever fly? Probably, given enough time and funding. Whether they will ever take off as an alternative to the commuter car is another matter. Would you fly one to work?
A Mind-internet interaction
Researchers have devised a scheme for sending signals from the brain of a monkey over the internet to control a robotic arm which could have far reaching consequences like putting paralised people in control of artificial limbs and improving the understanding of how humans might do better at controlling machines at a distance.
Scientists at the Duke University at Durham, N.C., led by Miguel Nicolelis, implanted electrodes into the cerebral cortex, a part of the brain that helps control movement.
Cells there become electrically active in the planning stages of a movement, hundreds of milliseconds before the motion is executed, a report in IEEE Spectrum said.
The Duke team developed software algorithms that would let them forecast the movement the monkey was planning — in this case, to reach for a morsel of food — by reading the pattern of activity picked up in the electrodes.
Hazardous waste processing
Scientists have developed a new device called the plasma "cask" for processing hazardous waste which eliminates drawbacks and limitations associated with the existing processes.
Although the use of chlorofluorocarbons in spray cans and refrigerators has been virtually eradicated, industry and sites for hazardous waste are still tackling the problem of their disposal. The difficulty lies in eliminating harmful solvents without damaging the environment.
Existing processes like activated carbon filters only shift the problem, because the accumulated solvents — even if in concentrated form — still have to be dealt with when the filters are regenerated.
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY CROSSWORD
Solution to last week’s