3D Fingerprint Sensors Get Under Your Skin

New sensor uses ultrasound pulses to map out blood vessels within the fingertip, as well as fingerprints

2 min read
Phantom inner layer with bovine blood to mimic finger blood vessel.
Part of an artificial finger with bovine blood in the vessel that was used to test the new sensor.
Photo: North Carolina State University

Many people already use fingerprint recognition technology to access their phones, but one group of researchers wants to take this skin-deep concept further. In a study published January 18 in IEEE Sensors Journal, they described a technique that maps out not only the unique pattern of a person’s fingerprint, but the blood vessels underneath. The approach adds another layer of security to identity authentication.

Typically, a fingerprint scan only accounts for 2D information that captures a person’s unique fingerprint pattern of ridges and valleys, but this 2D information could easily be replicated.

“Compared with the existing 2D fingerprint recognition technologies, 3D recognition that captures the finger vessel pattern within a user’s finger will be ideal for preventing spoofing attacks and be much more secure,” explains Xiaoning Jiang, a distinguished professor at North Carolina State University and co-author of the study.

To develop a more secure approach using 3D recognition, Jiang and his colleagues created a device that relies on ultrasound pulses. When a finger is placed upon the system, triggering a pressure sensor, a high-frequency pulsed ultrasonic wave is emitted. The amplitudes of reflecting soundwaves can then be used to determine both the fingerprint and blood vessel patterns of the person.

In an experiment, the device was tested using an artificial finger created from polydimethylsiloxane, which has an acoustic impedance similar to human tissues. Bovine blood was added to vessels constructed in the artificial finger. Through this set up, the researchers were able to obtain electronic images of both the fingerprint and blood vessel patterns with resolutions of 500 × 500 dots per inch, which they say is sufficient for commercial applications.

Intriguingly, while the blood vessel features beneath the ridges of the artificial finger could be determined, this was not the case for 40% of the blood vessels that lay underneath the valleys of the fingerprint. Jiang explains that this is because the high-frequency acoustic waves cannot propagate through the tiny spaces confined within the valleys of the fingerprint. Nevertheless, he notes that enough of the blood vessels throughout the finger can be distinguished enough to make this approach worthwhile, and that data interpolation or other advanced processing techniques could be used to reconstruct the undetected portion of vessels.

Chang Peng, a post-doc research scholar at North Carolina State University and co-author of the study, sees this approach as widely applicable. “We envision this 3D fingerprint recognition approach can be adopted as a highly secure bio-recognition technique for broad applications including consumer electronics, law enforcement, banking and finance, as well as smart homes,” he says, noting that this group is seeking a patent and looking for industry partners to help commercialize the technology.

Notably, the current set up using a single ultrasound inducer takes an hour or more to acquire an image. To improve upon this, the researchers are planning to explore how an array ultrasonic fingerprint sensors will perform compared to the single sensor that was used in this study. Then they aim to test the device with real human fingers, comparing the security and robustness of their technique to commercialized optical and capacitive techniques for real fingerprint recognition.

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Atomically Precise Sensors Could Detect Another Earth

Tiny wobbles of distant stars may soon help reveal life-sustaining worlds

12 min read
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Funnel for Light: The 3.5-meter mirror of the WIYN telescope channels starlight into a glass fiber, which carries it to the NEID spectrograph, located in the basement of the observatory.

Photo: National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory/KPNO/AURA/NSF
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Gazing into the dark and seemingly endless night sky above, people have long wondered: Is there another world like ours out there, somewhere? Thanks to new sensors that we and other astronomers are developing, our generation may be the first to get an affirmative answer—and the earliest hints of another Earth could come as soon as this year.

Astronomers have discovered thousands of exoplanets so far, and almost two dozen of them are roughly the size of our own planet and orbiting within the so-called habitable zone of their stars, where water might exist on the surface in liquid form. But none of those planets has been confirmed to be rocky, like Earth, and to circle a star like the sun. Still, there is every reason to expect that astronomers will yet detect such a planet in a nearby portion of the galaxy.

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