- John Garcia
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How the human eye could soon replace ignition switches
One Company Brings Iris Identification To The Auto Industry
Someday soon, drivers may start cars with a scan of their eyes instead of the turn of a key. EyeLock, a New York company that manufactures biometric equipment, is developing a camera-based system that identifies drivers through a scanner installed in visors or rear-view mirrors.
With a glance, an infrared scanner and algorithm interpret and code 240 unique properties found in the iris of each human eye. Collectively, those characteristics serve as a sophisticated fingerprint. Once a scan is matched to a driver's iris template, the vehicle can be started and the journey can begin.
Amid a wave of infotainment features and cheap processing power, experts are increasingly looking at biometric equipment as a way to help personalize the driving experience. EyeLock's iris-identification system may be one of the first examples to reach car owners.
"If a vehicle can definitively identify a car's owner before it allows entry and operation, it removes the possibility of theft," said Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. "The price of biometric technology is dropping, as seen by its recent arrival in the cell-phone market. Automobiles, along with home security systems, are the next logical application of this technology."
Anthony Antolino, chief marketing and business development officer, says the company is under contract with multiple OEM and tier-one companies to provide this equipment. Though he won't divulge the recipients, announcements are expected by the end of the year.
At first glance, the iris-identification system seems like a novel way to counter car theft. But that's only one of possible automotive applications.
What's Possible With Detailed Driving Data
When iris scanners arrive, drivers should find an increased ability to customize settings in car shared by multiple family members. If you dislike the radio presets selected by a spouse, for example, the system can remember which favorites are associated with each driver. If one driver likes the seat closer to the steering wheel and one likes to drive further away, the seat will be automatically adjusted once a driver is authenticated.
Perhaps more significantly, the system could yield detailed data on each driver's behavior and habits.
It's difficult for current systems that track such data to discern between drivers. If you're monitoring fuel economy via in-car features or utilizing usage-based insurance devices, all drivers are lumped in together. The family lead-foot fares no better than the hypermiler.
The system can maintain up to five separate driver profiles for each car. The benefits of such specificity can be significant, Antolino said.
Case in point: "We all know that once you have a 16-year-old driver, your insurance premiums go through the roof, but what if that young child is a really responsible driver?" he said. "There's no reason that household shouldn't benefit from preferential premiums. ... It really does start with specifically knowing who's in the driver's seat, and that's not possibly with any other body part."