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Karin Halperin
Karin Halperin
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When it comes to biometrics-the use of unique biological or behavioral traits to establish or verify identity-banks have been slow to move out of the pilot and into the real world. But Visionics, a face-recognition software maker in Jersey City, N.J., has tried to change that.

Developments such as built-in cameras in wired and mobile devices and increased bandwidth favor face recognition as the biometric technology of choice, said Dr. Joseph L. Atick, president and CEO of Visionics. Although camera charge coupled device (CCD) sensors might cost a couple of hundred dollars, manufacturers have migrated from these to complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) sensors at one-tenth the price. "That meant you could put cameras into just about any device," such as cell phones, said Atick.

Last May, Visionics introduced its FaceIt technology-a software engine that allows computers to rapidly detect and recognize faces-for Pocket PC, which is used in a variety of hand-held devices, including Casio's Cassiopeia, Hewlett-Packard's Jornada and Microsoft's MiPad.

"Now you have the emergence of an infrastructure that can run our biometric face recognition," said Atick, "and an emergence of a demand because of the network."

Focusing on facial measurements, the software ignores such mutable characteristics as beards, hair color, routine plastic surgery-like a nose job-and aging. "Our skull doesn't change with age," said Atick. "We may get wrinkled, but that's not what we're looking at."

Visionics has provided FaceIt to San Francisco-based InnoVentry, which operates the largest consumer biometric application, for close to three years. Co-owned by Wells Fargo and Cash America International, InnoVentry has installed about 700 self-service, cardless, fee-based check cashing kiosks in supermarkets, convenience and mass-merchandise stores, serving about 1 million of the nation's estimated 37 million self-banked. Financial institutions, including International Bank and Marquette Bank, have also signed on, granting check-cashing privileges to bank and nonbank customers.

Last October, North Fork Bank, Melville, N.Y., bought 10 InnoVentry check-cashing machines for branches and off-site locations, with three already installed.

"In the next couple of years you should see real self-service growth in banking, and I'd say that's where most of the adoption of biometrics on a mass scale will take place, said Atick. "Many banks will get into self-service loans, because if you eliminate the potential for fraud, it can have nice margins."

Atick cofounded Visionics in 1994 with Drs. Paul Griffin and Norman Redlich, colleagues from the Computational Neuroscience Laboratory at New York's Rockefeller University, which Atick headed. "We were working on the question of how the human brain analyzes information," said Atick.

Specifically, the scientists wondered how the brain could sift through the enormous amount of data it receives, equivalent to three or four books a second, and recognize faces in a crowd.

They concluded that the brain automatically screens out redundancies it could predict from knowledge of membership in a class and focuses only on distinctive features, such as the depth and width of the eye sockets and their location relative to the nose.

From this theory of facial geometry, they developed the FaceIt software engine, which in a fraction of a second locates human faces in images and extracts the unique landmarks, converting the face into an algorithmic code-or faceprint-that it transmits to a server for authentication.

FaceIt has also been used in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's human ID at a distance program, to survey international airports, identify known criminals in London's Newham neighborhood through closed-circuit TV, monitor the movement of Palestinian day laborers from Gaza to Israel and to combat fraud in Mexico's recent presidential election.

Visionics' recent merger with Digital Biometrics, a Minnetonka, Minn. manufacturer of digital fingerprint equipment mainly for law enforcement agencies, will expand the company's reach, said Atick.

"The new company gives us hardware and system design capabilities...we'll be able to produce small chips and devices that we will integrate into kiosks for travel and banking. We'll integrate them into cell phones, and things of that sort."



COMPANY PROFILE: Provides face-recognition software, giving banks the ability to launch self-service lending and other services.

HQ: Jersey City, N.J.

Dr. Joseph L. Atick, president and CEO

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