Being able to read digital fingerprints on screens used by various different people could bring significant advances for collaborative working.
Having to enter a user name and password has up to now been seen as the final remaining security hurdle to accessing touchscreens in public places such as hospitals, bars and classrooms. However it is still often difficult to know exactly who has been using which device to do what and when. Christian Holz and Patrick Baudisch, two researchers at the Hasso Plattner Institute at Potsdam in Germany, have been working on the problem and have now developed Fiberio, a smart table equipped with a touchscreen, which is able to identify a number of different users by their fingerprints each time they interact with the system.
Solving a long-standing problem
How to make a screen which is able to project light to capture an image while at the same time reflecting it in order to generate a scan of a fingerprint is a conundrum which specialists in the field of man-machine interaction have been trying for a long time to solve. Previous smart tables with touchscreens have had to integrate a projector, infrared light and camera embedded beneath their plastic screens. The Fiberio table improves on this approach by using an optic fibre plate three millimetres thick. The extremities of these fibres are extremely reflective and allow part of the infrared light to reflect towards the camera. Then, when the light arrives at the surface of a finger it generates less reflection, creating darker zones. This generates sufficient contrast to pick out and identify the ridges and valleys of the person’s finger and thus provides a reliable fingerprint.
A wide range of uses
“Being able to keep track of what has been done and by whom on a given device opens up a wide range of new applications in collaborative interactive systems,” underlines Holz. Using such a system in a hospital, for example, could provide patients with the option of looking at their medical files, would allow doctors to make changes to these files, and nurses to request the appropriate medicine, etc. In an educational context, each individual student’s progress could be recorded and assessed in cases where a teacher would struggle to spot individual contributions to work done on a computer used by many different people. Bank customers standing at an ATM could simply touch the screen to identify themselves for the purpose of withdrawing money. Holz and his colleagues have been looking to widen Fiberio’s fields of application, and are currently working on adapting this technology to mainstream mobile devices, as at the moment the system only works on smart tables.