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Bobby Varma Nov 23, 2021 12:00:00 PM 6 min read

How to Choose Which Biometric Is Right for Your Customers

Before recommending a modality to a user, integrators must have a detailed understanding of how the biometric identity system will be used.


The COVID-19 pandemic has uprooted the status quo in countless ways. Integrators who sell biometric identity solutions know this firsthand. Unlike a few short years ago, touchless systems are now the only kind most customers will consider.

This means that for most physical security applications, modality options are limited to iris, face or touchless palm/vein. Choosing which to deploy merits careful consideration.

Before recommending a modality to a customer, integrators must have a detailed understanding of how the biometric identity system will be used. How many people will be enrolled? How quickly must the system process users? What are the lighting and environmental conditions at locations where readers will be placed? Are gloves, goggles, or masks likely to be in use? Is it reasonable to expect users to have their hands free?

In open environments, like lobbies and airports, customers are seeking a completely seamless experience. Therefore, the face is the primary modality in use. Strategically placed cameras can scan the faces of people on the go. Face-based systems effectively match individuals against smaller databases, such as passengers on a flight manifesto or the employees at a small to mid-sized company.

The same technology can be used to flag individuals who are banned from a facility, alerting security personnel to intervene.

For applications that require more than a few hundred users or more secure settings, like data centers, R&D facilities and scientific or medical labs, the iris is a better choice. Unlike the face, it can accurately distinguish between an unlimited number of enrolled users. It is equally effective with people of all ethnicities and skin tones. Plus, unlike face or palm/vein, the iris can be read when wearing full PPE, including masks, goggles, and gloves.

Environmental conditions must also be considered. Face biometrics are extremely sensitive to light. If the sun is casting shadows, or the lighting is too dim, or the wind is blowing hair in front of the face, cameras can’t make accurate readings. Hats, scarves and glasses also impede identification capabilities. Palm/vein readers can’t process hands wearing gloves or holding umbrellas. Only the iris is impervious to all these conditions.

Once the setting and system use have been defined, it’s also essential to understand how the customer expects the system to provide value. What’s most important? Fail-safe accuracy? Convenience? Financial ROI? These expectations will affect modality preferences.

Integrators and customers agree that user acceptance must be addressed before any other considerations. If users find interacting with the system is burdensome, they do not trust its accuracy, or feel that it unduly infringes on their privacy, it is not a viable solution.

While face biometrics are the most convenient in terms of user experience, they score poorly on other metrics that underlie customer acceptance. Widely publicized studies have shown that facial recognition is less discerning with people-of-color, resulting in false matches and unequal treatment. There is also widespread discomfort with public and private entities applying such technology without user consent. Public pushback has already led several states to regulate facial recognition as a surveillance tool.

Not surprisingly, companies are starting to shy away from the technology in favor of other options.

Customers typically rank convenience as the next most important factor in their decision-making process. Users will accept some level of inconvenience in the name of security, but corporate decision-makers must determine how much they can compromise their users’ experience before drawing backlash.

For example, touchless palm/vein readers may be acceptable at cash registers or reception desks, where users have a countertop to put down their phone or whatever they are carrying, but not so at exterior doorways, stairwells, or inside elevators. After the face, the iris is the next most convenient modality. Readers placed at eye level can process users “as they are” in just a few seconds without special accommodations.

Finally, accuracy must also be addressed. The unique patterns of the iris make it one of the most accurate biometrics that exist. Iris identity systems register a false match only once in one million events. The iris remains constant throughout one’s adult lifetime and is equally effective for all ethnicities and skin tones.

Therefore, it can be used in applications involving huge numbers of enrolled users and in the highest security environments. More than any other modality, the iris stands at the crossroads where convenience meets security.

One more option for customers to consider is a multimode solution, such as iris and face, which offers several additional benefits. When used together during screening, iris with face adds an additional level of security. It offers customers flexibility for processing the rare user for whom one of the modalities won’t work.

People with glass eyes are such an example. It also allows companies to deploy multimode at their facility’s critical security screening locations while relying on more convenient face-only cameras for users once they are inside.

Bobby Varma

Bobby Varma is the CEO of Princeton Identity.