Biometrics on the steering wheel: the ultimate life tracker

January 26, 2016 // By Julien Happich
Judging from recent demonstrators and technology announcements, biometrics is high on the agenda of the connected car. Fingerprint sensors have already reached some level of consumer acceptance to secure their laptops and smartphones.

According to market research firm IHS Inc., unit shipments of fingerprint sensors have grown from 316 million in 2014 to 499 million in 2015 and will continue to increase each year to peak at 1.6 billion in 2020.

Cars which are much more costly than smartphones and becoming increasingly connected, are the logical next step, it seems. A number of standalone fingerprint-based car starters and car locks have been around for a few years now on the car after-market.

Design cycles in the automotive industry are notoriously longer than in the smartphone industry, but solution vendors are looking for a strategic expansion into this market (after having successfully moved from the government and banking high-security access domain to the consumer domain).

Early January, global provider of silicon fingerprint sensors Fingerprint Cards (FPC) publicly stated that its solutions were under evaluation by leading global car makers and other automotive integrators, expecting its touch fingerprint sensor chip FPC1025 to be seen in a number of demos and public demonstrations for automotive applications during 2016.

Joined over the phone by EETimes Europe, FPC's CEO Jörgen Lantto is confident about the penetration of fingerprint scanners in cars.

“Today for the smartphone industry, we ship about one million units per working day. That means our solution is used several billion times per day and is well proven. Although it’s too early to tell when the automotive industry will represent a mass market for fingerprint scanners, our customers and OEM partners have already given us their predictions and our impression is that there is a serious intent to move forward with this technology”.

“The pace at which it will happen will depend on consumer experience. If it’s great, this could accelerate acceptance and market penetration” he concluded.

Boasting flexibility and inconspicuous design, FlexEnable and ISORG revealed a large area fingerprint and vein sensor (86x86mm) designed on plastic, a solution that could wrap around a steering wheel, they say.

The sensor film is only 0.3mm thick and can operate in visible and near infra-red up to wavelengths of 900nm, measuring not only the fingerprint, but also the configuration of veins in the fingers for additional security versus that of a surface fingerprint alone. Designed at a 84µm pitch, the 1024x1024 pixels sensor features a 302dpi resolution versus the FPC1025’s 508dpi specification, though it could scan several fingers at once for increased security and does not require optics.

Flexenable and ISORG's joint flexible sensor development.

The companies did not specify if they had built demonstrators specifically aimed at seducing automotive OEMs, but FlexEnable already develops conformable cockpit displays, which in principle, could also integrate the palm-sized fingerprint sensing solution.