View from India: IIIT-H to set up Biometrics Lab

Autonomous research university the International Institute of Information Technology-Hyderabad (IIIT-H) is to establish its own biometric lab on campus. The lab will be operational from November 2018.

There is a growing demand for biometrics in the country. Face-recognition technology will be rolled out in domestic airports in India early next year. As per a government resolution passed in June 2018, biometric attendance has been made compulsory in the junior colleges in Mumbai. In 2018, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) announced that it is including face recognition - along with iris recognition - as an added security layer for Aadhaar, the national identity system in India and the world’s largest biometric system. To date, approximately 121 crore (1.21 billion) individuals have been issued an Aadhaar card based on biometrics de-duplication.

“Biometrics is the only way to ensure that the ‘person is indeed who he claims to be’ and ‘not who he denies to be.’ The recognition accuracy of biometric systems is significantly affected by the data used to train the systems. For example, a face-recognition system that is trained and tested on Caucasian faces is not likely to perform as well on Indian faces,” said Prof Anil Jain, from Michigan State University, US, who will be collaborating with IIIT-H to establish its new biometrics lab.

Prof Jain, who has the highest h-index (an author-level metric that attempts to measure both the productivity and citation impact of the publications of a scientist or scholar) among all computer scientists in the world, is currently spending a month in IIIT-H as part of the VAJRA (Visiting Advanced Joint Research) faculty scheme by the Government of India’s Department of Science and Technology. VAJRA enables NRIs (non-resident Indians) and the overseas scientific community to participate and contribute to research and development in India.

Fingerprint matching is also dependent on the condition of the fingers as well as the acquisition environment. Hence, it’s important to develop biometric systems that are specifically tuned to the Indian population, enrolment and authentication environments. “Most importantly, there are several unresolved problems in biometrics including data quality, spoofing and user privacy that require further research and this Lab will focus its efforts on such problems,” explained Prof. Jain.

The biometrics lab will also encourage research and training: “It will address issues related to designing and prototyping solutions for specific problems such as spoof detection, privacy-preserving authentication and large-scale solutions. The lab will enlist students of IIIT-H who are enrolled in research programmes as well as research students from other institutions,” said Prof. Anoop Namboodiri, Centre for Visual Information Technology (CVIT), IIIT-H. The students will work on research projects that the lab faculty will define. Appropriate biometrics-related courses - both semester-long and short courses - will be offered to students of IIIT-H, as well as working professionals from outside the university.

Biometric identifiers extend to fingerprint, face and voice recognition, DNA, palm print, hand geometry, iris recognition, retina and odour. However, there is a trend in global technology moving away from fingerprints and gravitating towards facial recognition, as evidenced by the Apple iPhone X models - smartphones with no fingerprint scanner at all. In sync with the global trend, the IIIT-H lab will focus on other biometrics modalities such as face and iris, along with the fingerprint. Fingerprint-based authentication is still essential to unlock many mobile phones, for mobile payments and international travel. Nevertheless, there are challenging issues pertaining to fingerprint uniqueness and permanence, image quality, spoof detection, robust matching and template security.

“The choice of biometric modality for an application depends on the constraints where it operates. In case of mobile phones, the screen size can be increased by removing the bezel and the home button. However, for other applications such as a door lock, it may be much more convenient to have a fingerprint sensor, where the user naturally touches the door-knob. Even for mobile phones, optical fingerprint readers are being developed that are embedded under the screen,” highlighted Jain.

As per a 2017 FICCI-PwC Report, ‘Indian private security industry,’ this sector has witnessed higher than 20 per cent growth in recent quarters and is expected to continue to do so, owing to rapid infrastructural and economic development. The private security industry is amongst the largest employers in India, employing more than eight million people. While the human element has thus far been at the forefront of delivery in this service industry, technology and electronics are increasingly playing a strong complementary role. High-tech surveillance systems, remote sensors and biometric technologies may usher in a paradigm shift in the go-to-market strategy of private security players.

A large number of government-led digital initiatives coupled with increasing smartphone penetration and security concerns have led to a diverse application of biometric technology in India. Biometrics as a segment is slowly proliferating and its growth is expected in verticals like health record management, banking transactions, time and attendance application and various e-transactions. It means there’s scope for biometric modality, innovation and adaption. Startups have begun to whet opportunities in this segment, specialising in iris-recognition technology, biometric-based payments and voice-based biometric solutions, among others.

Perhaps a time may come when an individual’s body becomes the PIN or unlock key, replacing the current norm of typing in textual-numeric passwords.  

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