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Print 3-D Fingerprints for Better Biometrics

These "phantom" prints can be used to calibrate and test fingerprint scanners

1 min read
Print 3-D Fingerprints for Better Biometrics

To test the accuracy of a new fingerprint scanner, researchers typically run millions of known fingerprint images through the system's matching software. But this testing procedure can't quite mimic real operating conditions, as a 2-D image fed into a program is fundamentally different than a 3-D finger pressed to a sensor. 

To get around that problem, researchers at Michigan State University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology have come up with the first 3-D-printed fingerprint. A new technical paper describes their system for projecting 2-D images onto a generic 3-D finger surface, then fabricating the realistic 3-D fingerprint, with all its loops and swirls, in a commercial 3-D printer. 

This could be useful for end-to-end evaluations of fingerprint matching systems, which start with fingerprint image acquisition and then go on to feature extraction and matching. In the video below, MSU professor Anil Jain says the use of such 3-D fingerprints could help both sensor manufacturers and algorithm developers improve the hardware and software of fingerprint matching systems. The dummy fingers will also be helpful in the development of up-and-coming touchless fingerprint sensing technologies. 

Fingerprint biometrics are finding more and more applications in our speedy and security-conscious world; the uses go far beyond law enforcement. In India, the government is trying to enroll every citizen in a biometric ID system using fingerprints and iris scans. Fingerprints are recorded at many nations' border crossings. And the iPhone 5s can be unlocked with Touch ID, a fingerprint recognition system. So long as our fingerprints are going to be scanned everywhere, we can at least root for those scanners to be as accurate as possible.  

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Restoring Hearing With Beams of Light

Gene therapy and optoelectronics could radically upgrade hearing for millions of people

13 min read
A computer graphic shows a gray structure that’s curled like a snail’s shell. A big purple line runs through it. Many clusters of smaller red lines are scattered throughout the curled structure.

Human hearing depends on the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure in the inner ear. A new kind of cochlear implant for people with disabling hearing loss would use beams of light to stimulate the cochlear nerve.

Lakshay Khurana and Daniel Keppeler
Blue

There’s a popular misconception that cochlear implants restore natural hearing. In fact, these marvels of engineering give people a new kind of “electric hearing” that they must learn how to use.

Natural hearing results from vibrations hitting tiny structures called hair cells within the cochlea in the inner ear. A cochlear implant bypasses the damaged or dysfunctional parts of the ear and uses electrodes to directly stimulate the cochlear nerve, which sends signals to the brain. When my hearing-impaired patients have their cochlear implants turned on for the first time, they often report that voices sound flat and robotic and that background noises blur together and drown out voices. Although users can have many sessions with technicians to “tune” and adjust their implants’ settings to make sounds more pleasant and helpful, there’s a limit to what can be achieved with today’s technology.

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