Sunday, January 27, 2008

British Airport Installs Biometric Security

Manchester swaps traditional employee access cards for an iris recognition system.

Manchester has implemented what it claims is the U.K.'s first biometric access control system based on iris recognition. The system officially went live just before Christmas, and is used to control access to secure parts of the airport for airport workers.

Manchester Airport and the Department for Transport (DfT) partnered with Human Recognition Systems (HRS), a Liverpool-based identity management consultancy, to implement the system.

Currently, most U.K. airports used conventional access control cards to regulate movement of people from landside to airside within the airports. In order to enforce adequate security levels, security officers often have to man the entrance to each entry point, carrying out a variety of time consuming and costly security checks.

The biometric access control system at Manchester Airport augments its manual checking procedures. It uses iris recognition cameras to allow staff access into restricted zones.

"We have been working with Manchester airport now for the past five years," said Neil Norman, CEO at Human Recognition Systems, speaking to Techworld. "We trialled various biometric systems, including fingerprints, iris recognition, and hand geometry recognition. In the end, iris and hand geometry recognition were the two finalists, but it was felt that iris recognition was the best fit."

"With traditional access cards you are unable to monitor behavior of every single member of staff," he added. "People can share their identity, either via collusion or collaboration."

He pointed out that airports have to contend with a large workforce, 25,000 in the case of Manchester. This includes not just airport staff, but staff for the airline food companies, engineers, people to service fuel bowsers etc.

"This is not retinal scanning," said Norman. "We are looking to capture the colored doughnut around your pupil, i.e. the colored bit in your eye. An iris camera focuses on the eye and simply takes a picture of the doughnut to get a pattern."

"An algorithm extracts the iris pattern and stretches it out into something like a barcode, with is then compared against our database. There are also systems in place to make sure it is a real living eye in the picture, and not just a photograph of an eye."

"We get a sub second response time with this iris recognition system," said Norman. "It is faster than taking out an access card, swiping it, and then going through."

He dismisses as absolutely nonsense the urban legend that alcohol and blood shot eyes could affect an iris recognition system. Neither are glasses a problem, although sunglasses could be, as the camera needs to actually see the iris.

With the U.K. government stepping up its commitment to its controversial e-Borders program, iris recognition is being touted as the key biometric system for the government to track passenger movements.

Heathrow Airport has already piloted the technology last year with its miSense project, which saw more than 60,000 passengers processed by the Iris Recognition Immigration System - or IRIS. They had their iris pattern and passport details stored in a database to enable them to pass through border controls electronically without a face-to-face encounter with an official.,141697-c,biometricsecuritydevices/article.html

Sony sells first OLED TV's

Consumers in Japan have snapped up the first batch of 200 OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) TV's from the electronics giant Sony for around ¥200,000 (£850).

The 11in XEL-1 is a mere 3mm thick and sports a claimed contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1, a figure LCD and Plasma manufacturers can only dream about.

Although planned monthly production of 2,000 units won't put a dent in Sony's estimated sales of 10 million LCD TV's a year, the retail availability of such a revolutionary technology is an important benchmark in TV hardware development.

The great advantage OLED displays have over LCD is that they do not require a backlight to function, and require far less energy as a result. OLED-based display devices also can be more effectively manufactured than LCDs and plasmas. A major problem however is the degradation of materials used to manufacture OLED TV's which limits their life span to about 40% of equivalent LCD or Plasma screens.

The XEL-1 is based on Sony's 'Super Top Emission' (STE) technology which uses a pitted organic film (the pits are called micro-cavities) to reflect out from the display light that has bounced back off the display's semi-transparent cathode, the negatively charged material used to send electrons through the OLED's organic film, generating light. Colours are produced through STE's colour filters above the cathode.

No word yet on whether Sony plan to introduce their OLED technology in Europe or the US.

Five Nifty Features in Nikon's D300 Digital SLR

Get to know Nikon's mid-range digital SLR camera better through one user's shooting torture tests.

The best way to learn a camera is to take it out in the field, pushing the camera's limits as you shoot in both familiar circumstances and unknown environments. I had the opportunity to do just that with the new Nikon D300 digital SLR recently--and came away impressed by many of the usability touches I found.

At $1799 for the body only, the D300 represents Nikon's new midrange offering, falling between the D80 and the professional-level D3. This model replaces the two-year old Nikon D200, which earned a respectable PC World rating of 80.

In developing the D300, Nikon leveraged many of the technological evolutions it included in the $5000 Nikon D3. As someone who's shot with a pro-level camera (the Canon 1D Mark II), I hate making compromises when I step down to a lower-level SLR.

While I haven't shot this extensively with the D3, I can say that when I used the D300 last week, I didn't feel as if I was making too many compromises. What follows are five aspects of the D300's design that caught my attention.

Image Zoom: The D300 lets you zoom into an image but that's nothing special; that's expected of digital SLR. What was a pleasant surprise--and new to the D300--was how quickly and easily I could zoom in *and* pan around the image to check how clear the shot was--without first entering the playback mode. Press the + magnifying glass button (second up from the bottom, along the left side of the 3-inch, 920,000-dot LCD), and you move into the image. Hold the button in, and the zoom moves deeper still. A picture-in-picture box appears at the lower left; a yellow box appears inside it, indicating how zoomed into the image you are. Panning around within the image was a breeze, thanks to the Nikon's multidirectional navigation pad control; for panning, I much preferred this control to Canon's stiff and small joystick control. What struck me here was how facile and speedy the camera's controls and internal processing made it to spot check the clarity of my 12.1 megapixel images.

Live View: Shooting with a point-and-shoot digital camera has spoiled me: There are times I want nothing more than to frame my image within the LCD screen, and not through the viewfinder. Don't get me wrong--I rely heavily on the viewfinder as well--but some shots, such as overhead shots looking down into a crowd or a group of people, or lower-surface shots that are not at eye-level, are just plain easier when composed through the LCD. I haven't found all Live View functions on SLRs intuitive (Canon's EOS 40D requires you to make some adjustments to enable Live View), but the D300's worked quite well in hand-held mode (you can also use the Live View in tripod mode, but I didn't try that). Switching between Live View and the optical viewfinder requires a combination button press and dial turn, but I didn't find that presented a problem when I wanted to quickly switch from one to the other. If I were trying to switch in time to catch a split-leap on the balance beam while shooting pictures of gymnastics, I would have had a problem, but moving between modes was easier than menu-based switching.

Inside the Ferry Building with no flash (left) and with flash.
Low-light Handling: While PC World's tests have yet to be completed, in the field, the D300 seemed to do a solid job handling low-light situations. Whether I was shooting the gymnasts in a poorly lit gymnasium at Stanford University, or outside of AT&T Park at night, or inside San Francisco's iconic Ferry Building, I found the camera surprised me time and again with how it could capture an image without the flash--with what appeared to be an reasonable degree of noise and sharpness (I used a 15-year-old 50mm 1.8 lens for the gymnastics, and Nikon's 18-200mm lens with Vibration Reduction for the latter two tasks). The Auto ISO feature works in all modes, up to 3200 ISO--which means you don't have to think about what ISO is best when you're shooting.

Changing Auto-focus Points: In shooting, I found it notably simple to change the auto-focus (up to 51 on the D300, vs. 11 focus points on the D200) on-the-fly. Rather than cycling through focus points, I could instead use the multidirectional navigation pad to choose which spot I wanted the focus point. This proved a great convenience when I was shooting a mask with depth, and I wanted to both compose the image and have the focus be on a specific part of the mask.

Information Displays: I found the D300's information displays well-presented overall (as on the D200). Whether I was looking at the LCD on top of the camera, the large-type replication of that information display on the rear LCD (new to the D300: The rear LCD automatically changes color, depending upon whether it's dark or light, turns to a black background with white text for easier readability), or looking at an image's related shooting information--the pertinent info was clearly and concisely presented.

We'll know more when the camera comes out of testing and is the subject of a full PCW review. Stay tuned.,141719-c,digitalcameras/article.html