Introduction to biometrics

The future of vein recognition

(reproduced with permission from Joe Rice)

A Constructive Dissatisfaction

The theft and fraudulent use of my credit cards and bank cards in 1983 at Kodak’s Annesley plant in England led me to invent or perhaps more accurately to discover vein pattern recognition. I was a young automation controls engineer and one of my projects involved barcode reading on film production machinery. I was having problems with the infra red barcode reader reading through the paper label due to the transparency of paper at these wavelengths.

Whilst stuck in a traffic jam on my way home from work musing on the theft and the technical problems I was experiencing. I was suddenly aware of sunlight playing across my hands on the steering wheel. Bingo! It occurred to me that I could probably treat veins and other subcutaneous structures as an unstructured barcode and thus tie individuals to their bank issued cards and tokens in a very secure manner.

Expert Opinion

I started work immediately and built a rough prototype using IR LEDs and IR sensitive photodiodes and started scanning colleagues during tea and meal breaks. I also managed to get some sets of volunteer identical twins scanned and was amazed at the differences in vein patterns and the repeatability of the pattern from one week to the next. I submitted the idea to Kodak’s product opportunities panel along with my data. UK management really liked the submission but Eastman Kodak executives sought input from biometric experts who said “there would be no viable market for this technology as signature and fingerprint would predominate” the proposal was rejected. I asked for and got an official release for the technology under UK law and signed the invention over to the BTG (British Technology Group) who took on the development and exploitation of the technology. However, BTG’s plans had to be put on hold for a period whilst they sought the lifting of a secrecy order imposed by the UK’s Ministry of Defence.

After the secrecy order was lifted I got a little funding from the BTG to develop some better prototype systems, the first public showing of the technology was at the Barclay’s Techmart exhibition in Birmingham in 1986. I demonstrated how veins could be imaged in the hands, fingers and elsewhere within the human body using IR LEDs and photo detector arrays and discussed and showed visitors different optical and system arrangements for the imaging and comparison of vein patterns. In the same year I entered and won the 1987 Micro User Innovation award. This award was based on the most innovative use of a BBC Micro computer and in my case it was for the detection and comparison of subcutaneous veins and structures in the hand and fingers using optical components and a BBC-B computer.

“My invention was not only driven by the need to protect the possessions of the virtuous but was also spurred by compassion for the weak. The colleague who stole my credit and bankcards had a drink and gambling problem; he lost his job and his marriage and drifted into a dissolute life following his prosecution.”

I find it disappointing that nearly 20+ years after inventing vein recognition, vein biometric manufacturers are still producing products based on my early prototypes and published work. They are overlooking vein biometry’s single most important feature, which is:


Vein Biometric future (The Biowatch)

In 1999 at the biometric Summit meeting in Washington DC I outlined my vision for a biometric future based on the development and commercialisation of personal worn biometric authenticators - Biowatches. An article based on this talk was later published in the journal of the Information Systems Audit and Control Association. However, despite outlining how these devices could be produced I was a little disappointed with the lack of progress, so earlier this year I wrote to existing vein biometric manufactures offering to assist them in developing personal worn biometric systems.

Biowatch: A Route Map to Deployment

It may be helpful if I itemise the case for personal worn biometric authentication systems via a checklist detailing the key components required for each element of the solution and then examining whether the requirement has been met. Readers will note that some of the current vein pattern biometric manufacturers are not too far from realising my vision for a personal worn biometric system …but they may have not realised this quite yet!

Functional Requirements

The public need a simple secure and accurate biometric system that they own and control themselves and with which they can secure their homes and possessions and authenticate their transactions and transmissions. Above all they need a system that is simple to use and failsafe and one that is easily replaced if lost or stolen.

The biowatch meets these requirements it is based on a proven and tested biometric trait. The vein biometric trait has been tested in Europe, Japan and most recently in the USA by IBG (International Biometric Group) see:

Moreover, the biowatch integrates the three key elements of security:

to provide a comprehensive security solution. The biowatch verifies the user’s vein pattern upon being strapped to a wrist and responds to external challenges with a transmitted encrypted access or validation code whilst worn.

A simple approach to biometric verification

Vein reading modules employ standard IR LEDS and photodiode or CMOS arrays to illuminate and record subcutaneous absorption patterns of veins and capillaries. User verification is straightforward, the biowatch compares a users (constrained) vein pattern with a reference pattern, and a match initiates the biowatches challenge/response mechanism.

Simple Image processing

Image processing requirements are straightforward; the biowatch compares one watch constrained vein recording with another via image or frequency matching. Only if this initial comparison fails do more sophisticated image or frequency matching algorithms need to be employed.

A further advantage of wrist worn biometric readers is that biowatches will be placed on the wrist long before any biometric or cryptographic verification is required, so there is time available to undertake multiple image captures and image matching runs, plus the time to compute and store required access codes. Obviously if the watch is removed from the wrist all these processes are reset.

Technical Requirements

The manufacture of a wrist worn biometric authenticator is straightforward and requires only marginal development of current blue tooth and radio-enabled wristwatches. Hitachi’s wireless health monitoring wristwatch could easily accommodate a vein reading module See: Other watch manufactures should consider the inclusion of vein reading modules within the backs of their radio watches or integrated within the watchstraps.


Readers will note the increased pairing of cell phones and wireless wristwatches from various manufacturers. This pairing of radio watches and cell phones provides the scope for intercommunication and interoperability between the biowatch and the phone plus the near field and far field biometric authentication of users to wireless delivered services.

Requirement is met ?

Crypto Requirements (Hierarchal Cloistered Keys)

During 1998 I discussed a potential crypto solution for biowatches with Bruce Schneier of Counterpane. In an exchange of emails I proposed generating a set of cloistered private and public keys based upon the invariant elements of a vein pattern. I wanted to know from Bruce if it was possible to construct a hierarchy of key pairs and to have lower order key pairs superseded by higher order keys? Bruce thought this was doable, but since I did not have any money or backing for the proposal I left it on the back burner. I did however elaborate a little on this subject during my talks at the 1999 biometric summit.

The provision of a hierarchy of key pairs insures that a lost or stolen Biowatch is superseded by a new Biowatch and all existing system and transmissions supported or accessed via the old Biowatch will recognise the new. Moreover, the generation of a new public key will disable the use of the proceeding keys

The use of keys

PKI (Public key Infrastructures) coupled with LDAP (lightweight directory access protocols) enables biowatch users to conduct business and prove their identity and the authenticity of their digital transactions anywhere they can access a WiMax, WiFi, bluetooth or cell phone signal.

PKI ensures that people are who they say they are and also proves that the digital documents they issue and the transactions and transmissions they digitally sign are tamperproof and unrepudiatable.

Although this element is not currently in place this level of forgiving, failsafe crypto is a WANT and is not needed for initial military, police and security markets. The required level of integrated crypto can be developed and incorporated in products aimed at financial and consumer markets.

Requirement not met yet ? need the money to fund Counterpane or similar to develop the Crypto elements of the biowatch system.

A strategy for winning the biometric race

My view is that the current emphasis within the biometric industry on the numbers of biometric units shipped is fine for other biometric traits. Vein based biometric solution providers should not get into border crossing, voting registration and identity card markets. Keep vein patterns select and distance vein solutions from big government and big brother projects. Look instead for the niches that liberate people from crime and the fear of crime. Look for opportunities that make peoples lives easier and more secure, opportunities that safeguard their homes, possessions and transactions. But above all make vein pattern systems fashionable and chic through good design and ease of operation.

The Opportunity: biowatches integrated with financial services (The whole enchilada)

Financial institutions should seek to make vein pattern recognition a strategic market differentiator, by introducing biowatches to their new and better off clients first. Generate new business from young professionals and college kids by linking biowatches to cell phones, and support this initiative via a range of business and personal financial and security products and services secured by the biowatch. Above all link the biowatches supported transactions and access privileges to a range of insured financial and security services that underwrite authenticate and indemnify the individual and their transactions.

21st Century Digital Signature

Developers should seek to establish veins and the codes generated from vein patterns as the defacto digital signature for commerce in the 21st century. Vein pattern are the new biometric kid on the block and provide a very accurate and secure means of identity verification. Veins are very difficult to covertly obtain or steal plus have no criminal connotations.

Growth Opportunities

Financial institutions should use the introduction of biowatches to grow market share and drive new business. Biowatches matched to cell phones should be used as key drivers of new m-commerce business opportunities. Financial Institutions should introduce new corporate and personal financial products and services supported by the biowatch. Once the initial financial and transaction validation market has been addressed institutions should extend the scope of biowatch supported services into industrial & corporate, security, safety and environmental monitoring services. The growth of biowatches will spawn new opportunities for the introduction of new products and services within the leisure, entertainment, automotive and domestic security markets.

“Use the biowatch / cell phone combination as a key enabler for attracting and capturing new m-commerce business and attracting young fashionable clients to your brand and services.

Requirement: Not met yet ? . However, this requirement will be met either in Japan
Europe or the USA. The opportunity is available now the digital infrastructure is in place. The opportunity is just too large to miss and it needs to be seized…Today!


The biowatch is a world solution, it provides secure authentication of the individual to their homes and possessions and underwrites their transactions and authorship at any open and insecure Internet node or terminal worldwide.

It has been a long time since my brainchild of vein biometry was born back in 1983 and sometimes I despaired of it ever growing to adulthood it had so many detractors, but now with an ever increasing number of manufacturers producing vein based systems its future is assured.

However, I still want to push the envelope and deliver a biometric future that goes beyond the mundane. I want a biometric future where individuals own and control their own biometric systems, a future which integrates state of the art form and function into the design and operation of chic, fashionable biometric systems. Systems that secure the new mobile economy and drive growth, brand loyalty, increased market share and profitability for the financial institutions that grasp this opportunity. If you share my vision for this new biometric future and want the originator of vein biometric technology on your team… please do get in touch?

Joe Rice April 2007