Fingerprint technology came to China in the 1990s. Since then, more and more Chinese researchersfrom both academia and private enterpriseshave plunged into development of the technology. Success means that Chinese fingerprint products are now being exported to the rest of the world.
In the early 1990s, research institutions, such as Tsinghua University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences as well as related companies started developing f inge rpr int technology. The first products were for China's law enforcement agencies. Later, improvements in fingerprint algorithms shifted the focus from automated fingerprint identification systems (AFIS) to DSP-based ones. "To date, more than 20 Chinese manufacturers have patented fingerprint identification algorithms," said Jianzhong Liu, Deputy Manager at Fingertech.
Fingerprint products are used not only for criminal investigations but also time and attendance, locks, safes, PC peripherals, network-based real-time capture and comparison systems, and integrated solutions. Many Chinese players are now looking to integrate fingerprint technology with other technologies, like iris and vein identification and RFID technology.
Most successful Chinese manufacturers have strong academic backgrounds. In fact, researchers and students in academic institutions have become partners or even members of companies aiming at commercialization of fingerprint technology. These individuals retain strong relations with these academic institutions and cooperate closely on research.
Hisign Technologies, for example, has cooperated with the Tsinghua University's Department of Automation to develop algorithms since its founding in 1998. "I, myself, was once a student in the department,"said Xiaochun Liu, General Manager at Hisign.
Fingertech also pioneered such cooperative efforts. "Fingertech has worked with the Chinese Academy of Sciences on fingerprint technology development," said Liu. The pattern was repeated with IDworldone of the trail blazers in fingerprint product commercialization- -which sets up a partnership with the Software and Microelectronics Institute of Peking University.
Two key modules in fingerprint products are the algorithm and capture sensor with most Chinese manufacturers focusing efforts on the former. After more than 17 years of development, manufacturersZKSoftware, Hisign, Fingertech, Aralek, IDworld, Relong and ADELhave developed their own algorithms in subfields such as image preprocessing, feature extraction and comparison.
Chinese companies now produce world-class optical sensors. That said, "capacitive and electric field sensors are still dominated by foreign brands," said Wei Tong, General Manager of Beijing IDworld, because of weaknesses in the domestic semiconductor industry.
Since fingerprint comparison and identification requires a lot of system resources, such as server CPU and memory capacity as well as network bandwidth, Chinese manufacturers prefer to use chips with processing capabilities. This enables the fingerprint module to do processing directly; there is no need to tap into system resources. "Relong uses fingerprint chips that it has developed itself," said Tanghui Zhang, Chief Scientist at Relong. In addition, ADEL has cooperated with Texas Instruments to produce chips with powerful processing capability and a built-in mathematic modeling. According to most manufacturers, the false-rejection rate of Chinese fingerprint products is less than 0.1 percent; the false-acceptance rate is less than 0.001 percent; the resolution of optical sensors is already as high as 500 dpi. ADEL sensors can recognize fingerprints of even six-year-old children.
Industry Standardization on the Way
Robust growth of the biometric industry has made establishment of a national standards important. To have good overseas sales, Chinese players are adopting international standards. ZKSoftwareone of the leading manufacturers of fingerprint productshas bee using UL, FPS201 and ISO378 standards to benchmark quality. Its products meet all three sets of demanding standards.
In July 2007, an official committee was established to set standards. Standardization will facilitate promotion of Chinese fingerprint products both in domestic and overseas markets. Araleka manufacturer of fingerprint productswas invited to serve as an official committee member.
Chinese Fingerprint Products
To date, Chinese companies have integrated fingerprint technology with most traditional productssafes, locks, access controls and PC peripherals like mouses, flash disks, hard disks and mobile phones. Apart from that, they have embedded some novel features that have won them acclaim both at home and abroad.
Fingertech capture sensors provide users with two comparison options: image and feature so that they can select the best one for their particularly situation. In addition, safeguarding captured fingerprints and preventing such information from being stolen by hackers is a tough problem. Fingertech's answer is to build the fingerprint data encryption program into the lower layer of Windows so encryption cannot be de-installed even in safe mode. If an intruder forcibly de-installs the encryption program, the operating system will send a command to burn the hard disk. Furthermore, Fingertech's door control series allows users to configure Wiegand signals to protect fingerprint data from being stolen.
Besides enhancing system security, multiple features are being incorporated into fingerprint product design. iF4 Vistaone of ZKSoftware's most popular door control systems in the U.S. and European marketshas a 2.4-inch TFT color display screen that supports GPRS and WiFi transmission as well as HID iClass series cards. It also has an embedded Web server. iF4 Vista also supports automatic data backup and comes with a lightning-proof design.
Relong products are classified into several categories: door locks, wood door locks and bedroom door locks. Each type has exclusive features that make it appropriate for its particular application. Full patent rights for its locks and its own optical lens production lines enable the company to maximize flexibility of customization.
As DIY models are proving very popular with PC users, ADEL launched its modular LA9 fingerprint lock. Users simply install the lock by themselves, following simple instructions in the manual.
Chinese manufacturers are also stressing system integration. Their solutions enable users to implement fingerprint identification on current systems within one or two days. Aralek's Trustlink is a fingerprint module integration solution. Trustlink functions as middleware between the fingerprint sensor and users' application programs, while masking direct accesses to the physical layer from the application layer. "Trustlink supports more than seven mainstream fingerprint chips from suppliers, such as Authentec and Cypress. Trustlink can be integrated into users' OA, CRM and ERP systems," said Yu Shao, CEO of Aralek Biometric Technologies.
Beijing IDworld has also launched a similar solution. The A801R has its own processing board and can compress fingerprint data into a file as small as 193 bytes. This greatly reduces system overload during comparison. This feature is of particular use to financial institutions and banks because it releases more bandwidth for other applications. China's top four national banks will soon deploy the A801R series.
These features are equally well-received abroad. In fact, exports now account for more than 60 percent of total sales for many companies. ZKSoftware's overseas sales now account for 80 percent of the total. Strong support from joint ventures has also contributed much to ZKSoftware's success. To date, the company has partnerships in Europe and the U.S. with similar projects in the offing for Brazil, South Africa and Dubai.
In the future, Chinese manufacturers will continue to work on algorithms to make them more stable and accurate. Others will move to develop their own semiconductor-based sensors. Since these can be minimized quite easily, they are perfect for use in gadgets, such as wardrobe locks and the like.