An Eye For Security
With all the talk of security in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, biometric technology is getting a great deal of renewed attention. From face recognition to fingerprints, voice recognition to the unique shape of your skull, there are several ways of using the human body as a replacement for a key or password.

Now Panasonic, a division of Japanese electronics giant Matsushita (nyse: MC - news - people), is getting into the biometrics business with its Authenticam. It's essentially a camera that recognizes you by the unique shape of the iris of your eye. You can use it to sign on to your PC or computer network at the office. But it can also be adapted for all kinds of electronic security needs, including ATM machines, credit card authorization and health records management. The hardware is bundled with iris-recognition software created by Iridian Technologies of Moorestown, N.J.

The advantage with iris recognition, its proponents say, is that there's no need to touch anything. When you sign in to a system, you simply have to present your eye to the camera from a little more than a foot-and-a-half away. The system should recognize you within two seconds; the software takes care of the rest. There are no passwords or pin numbers to forget. In addition, the iris--the outer band of your eye that gives it color--is more unique than a fingerprint.

The disadvantage with iris recognition is that you have to get lined up just right for the camera to see your iris properly. While there's a multicolored light-emitting diode on the unit that guides you through the process, it would seem a little more complicated than just pressing your thumb or index finger to a fingerprint-recognition unit.

Still, scanning an iris is more reliable than scanning a retina, which is situated in the back of the eye and thus can be downright uncomfortable to scan. Retina scanners require the subject to get within an inch of the scanner and hold very still during the authentication process. Plus they're more expensive. Panasonic's Authenticam system sells for about $240.

The system works with PC-based systems running Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people) Windows 98, ME, or 2000. The unit connects to the computer through the universal serial bus connection port, and also draws its power from that port.

The system is being sold through Iridian Technologies and through online distributers like and

With airports, government installations and corporations reevaluating their security measures across the board in the coming weeks and months, there's no doubt that you'll begin to see a lot of new security devices appearing in your life. Some you may have to touch, some you may not

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