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Technology at our finger tips
Technology at our finger tips
Our themes for this issue are "Biosensors and biometrics", two areas of technology that are currently separate but may well become closely linked in the future. Both are also challenging in that they employ techniques and devices that may well be unfamiliar to a large number of our readers.
To be honest, a lot of the science behind biosensors is new ground for me as well. However, I can see that there is enormous potential for what is already a very big business indeed to become seriously huge. I can also see that there is a lot of scope for cross-fertilisation of ideas and methods between those of us more used to industrial sensing and the men in white coats.
This is especially the case as biosensors move from being in vitro outside the human body in test tubes, to in vivo within the body. Fibre optics, silicon based sensors, nanotechnology, intelligent sensors and radio communication must surely have a role to play?
Biometrics is also becoming increasingly important. I was shocked recently to discover that my credit card had been used as part of a mobile phone fraud. Apparently criminals had quoted a random credit card number (which just happened to be mine); in order to "charge up"; their mobile phone with call time credits. I presume this was all done over a phone, talking to a mobile phone operator or just by punching keys on a phone keypad.
What was particularly shocking about this was that it turns out that this form of crime is very common indeed and a quick survey of colleagues showed that about 50 per cent had been similarly targeted. I can also pretty safely assume that even if the phone companies tracked down the person who gave my card details, that it would be very difficult to make a charge stick in court as the villain could always claim it to be a genuine error.
The whole point of the above anecdote is that it demonstrates that many important everyday transactions are conducted with virtually no security checks — this is where biometrics come in.
Fingerprints have a lot going for them as a means of person identification. They are generally available, are attached to a limb that permits great flexibility in the location of the fingerprint reader, and their reading is non-invasive. Our feature by Don Braggins gives us an interesting history lesson and describes some radically different approaches to fingerprint identification that have recently been developed.
DNA is the ultimate (at least for now) biometric and it may be that the biosensor systems used for DNA analysis will never hit the high street, but who knows?; If they do then what is to stop a simple cash withdrawal from a bank dispenser becoming a full scale medical diagnosis of your susceptibility to heart disease? Come to think of it palm readers have been doing much the same for years based on the creases in our palms. If our fingerprints reflect our DNA then perhaps fingerprint analysis is not so non-invasive after all?