One small upstate tech company is poised for its big break. A few months ago, UltraScan announced a new invention for reading fingerprints that’s up to 100 times more accurate than current methods. The company thinks their invention will fundamentally change how we identify ourselves and pay for purchases.
‘Dirt, greases and grimes’
All kinds of things are advertised as fingerprint proof, like laptops and doors. The TV program MythBusters showed these locks are relatively simple to bypass.
This plays perfectly into the hands of John Schneider, co-founder of UltraScan in Buffalo. He says fingerprints, long hailed as infallible identifiers, are not so failsafe.
“Technology that would use a camera to take a picture of your finger also took a picture of all the dirt, greases and grimes of your finger,” he says.
In fact, almost anything can compromise the quality of a fingerprint, according to UltraScan.
“You have ink on your finger from reading a newspaper. You have nicotine being a cigarette smoker. You have suntan lotion, hand creams,” says Schneider.
So, long story short, Schneider set out to change this, hired dozens of engineers over the last few decades, raised and spent millions, faced setback after setback and finally emerged with the Next Big Thing.
“On August 8, 2012, we received FBI certification which was an industry milestone for the world and that’s when we really caught the attention of the rest of the world,” Schneider says.
What makes this product different is that UltraScan’s tool doesn’t take a picture. It reads the lines, grooves and ridges of a finger with ultrasound technology.
Yes, like the same thing that shows a fetus in a pregnant woman. “...an ultrasound can go through the skin, muscle, the tissue and fat to see the baby inside,” remarks Schneider.
While the concept of reading fingerprints with ultrasounds has been on the minds of researchers and engineers for awhile, UltraScan is the first to pull it off.
“Several companies have tired. Motorola has tried and failed. There are companies in our industry that are large Fortune 500 companies that have tried and failed. It is a technically difficult problem.”
300 million units?
Now, UltraScan is on the market and entertaining suitors – especially the military. But some potential partners just aren’t compatible, particularly if they want the ultrasonic chip to be smaller or cost less than a dollar.
“We cannot field the phone calls fast enough right now. As a small high technology company in Buffalo, New York, we are being courted by the largest of large companies out there,” Schneider says.
The reason new fingerprint technology can be so lucrative is that it can replace so many other forms of identification. It's the inaccuracy of current fingerprint technology that prevents you from using them to pay for purchases at a store, or pass through security before flying.
People in the future won’t have bulky wallets, forecasts Schneider.
“You have the rental card loyalty card. You have the home improvement store loyalty cards. What if you got rid of all the loyalty cards out of your wallet and were able to enable that with the touch of a finger?” he says.
UltraScan doesn’t lack for ambition – Schneider anticipates selling hundreds of millions of its ultrasonic chips and making a lot of money. But one thing’s for certain, the company is not going to build its product.
“We don’t have to be involved in manufacturing 300 million units a year. We will financially get our piece of those 300 million units,” says Schneider. “We take a lot of pride in knowing the fact that we did something that nobody else could do around the world and we’ve tried for three decades. No one’s done it.”