Palm-scanning technology is popping up nationwide as a bona fide biometric tracker of identities, and it appears poised to make the jump from schools and hospitals to other sectors of the economy including ATM usage and retail. It also has applications as a secure identifier for cloud computing.
Here's how it works: Using the same near-infrared technology that comes in a TV remote control or Nintendo Wii video game, the device takes a super high-resolution infrared photograph of the vein pattern just below a person's skin. That image, between 1.5 and 2.5 square inches, is recorded and digitized.
The PalmSecure device is made by document-scanning manufacturer Fujitsu. So far, no other company has a palm scanner on the market — though at least one other company is working on the technology.
Like many technological breakthroughs, the development began accidentally. A decade ago, a Fujitsu engineer in Tokyo mistakenly ran his hand over a page scanner and it yielded an output that piqued his curiosity. Testing eventually showed that the veins in the palm of your hand are as unique as a fingerprint and can be photographed under infrared light.
Fujitsu has seen double-digit quarterly sales growth in each of the last two years, says Bud Yanak, director of product management and partner development for Fujitsu Frontech North America.
Palm scanners are installed in more than 50 school systems and more than 160 hospital systems in 15 states and the District of Columbia, Yanak says.
Pinellas County Schools were the first in the nation to bring palm scanning to their lunch lines about 18 months ago. They are being used by 50,000 students at 17 high schools and 20 middle schools. Soon, the program will expand to 60,000 more students at 80 elementary schools, Dunham says. The 2% of students who opt out can still use cash.
At hospitals, the scans are making patient registration more efficient, and prevent sharing of information by patients that could lead to insurance fraud, says Carl Bertrams, senior vice president of sales and marketing for palm scan software maker HT Systems in Tampa.
A palm scan's precision record-keeping also avoids possible confusion if patients have the same name. For instance, a hospital system in the Houston area with a database of 3.5 million patients has 2,488 women in it named Maria Garcia – and 231 of them have the same date of birth, Bertrams says.
HT Systems president David Wiener won't reveal revenue but says that since 2007, they've got more than 160 hospitals for clients and have scanned more than 5 million patients.