If the eye is the window to the soul, then the human eyeball might be the gateway to the next generation of biometric password.
"Vasculature authentication assures mobile users the privacy they're looking for without giving up their face or fingerprint image," stated Dr. Arun Ross, Associate Professor at West Virginia University and a co-inventor of this new biometric research.
What's different about the whites of someone's eyes? To begin with, eye-veins are unique to each person, including "twins and even clones," CEO Toby Rush said in a phone interview.
"Eliminating password sprawl and reducing identity theft and fraud," is EyeVerify's mission statement on its website. But the new technology -- scanning one's unique eyeprint -- is more than something cool and special. The security scan is easy to use and simple in design,with a mobile cam and software inside doing the work along with your gaze being averted from one side to the other.
"It takes about two to three seconds for image capture (scan both eyes) and another second for local processing on a mobile phone to verify or reject a user," said Mr. Rush. "In total it's about three to four seconds. As smartphone technology improves, those times will become less and less."
Traditional biometrics includes scanning of face contours and the 2D images of fingerprints. Even the eye's retina and iris are more 2D than 3D images; they require infrared cameras, which are not embedded in mobile phones. Thus, eye-vein biometrics represent a true 3D depth image of a human's eye-veins, which look like roots of a tree and have depth. As a biosignature -- the whites of one's eyes -- might be the ideal part of the human body that is both unique to the individual and make privacy advocates content enough to start using the product. Passwords are so passé.
The brainchild research of Dr. Reza Derakhshani, Chief Scientist at EyeVerify, and Associate Professor at University of Missouri-Kansas City, in concert with Dr. Ross, EyeVerify was a startup built around the technology and intellectual property. Launched in January 2011 by Toby Rush, EyeVerify took the academic model and built the vasculature technology into a robust commercial product.
Now in a private beta or pilot with product launch to take place on "2-2-13," stated Mr. Rush, the timing of EyeVerify into the marketplace couldn't have been more fortuitous to leverage the explosive growth of mobility the past two years.
The Mobile World needs a Mobile Password
For CEO Toby Rush, EyeVerify is his third technology startup. When he met Dr. Derakhshani and saw the potential of biometrics in eye-veins with the visible vasculature patent, he began to explore potential uses.
"In 2012, while we hardened the algorithms for a commercial product, we explored uses, such as border crossings and airport checkpoints with an imprint verification system," he said. "Then mobile, with its growth, became the primary focus. Society is moving to an all mobile world."
On the pricing for EyeVerify, Mr. Rush replied, "We are targeting business users, so the banks and enterprise will pay for it."
A unique security technology made in the mobile era for mobile users and their smartphones could very well be a game changer. It certainly will be light years better than trying to remember and entering one's multitude of passwords, which can be easily lifted by a keylogging hacker anyway.
"We obtained an exclusive license on the patent from the university. We were self-funded for the first six months and will pay a quarterly royalty fee for the life of the patent, which is another 17 years," Mr. Rush explained. "We raised $1.5 million in a seed-angel round, and will soon be closing Series A with three venture capital firms."
Since the veins in the eye grow individually, like a plant and no two snowflakes are alike, and the veins are not DNA-driven, it begins to explain why "twins and clones" have nothing to worry about in using someone else's EyeVerfied scan. It can't happen.
From Hangovers to Glass Eyes
In asking some of the more obvious questions on eye biometric drawbacks -- an eye patch, a glass eye, hangover with "Stop sign red" veins -- Toby Rush addressed those potential issues without missing a beat in the interview, responding, "It's one reason we needed to make the technology more robust. In the near-term EyeVerify doesn't focus on the smaller capillaries, which can be affected by allergies and hangovers, but the thicker veins. The eyeprint is stable for at least three years. It may need to be updated as you get older, but the system can do that automatically. If a person has one eye, no problem with the single eye verification process."
"What other applications are you looking at for the technology?" I asked.
"Other apps for mobile and tablets? Well, laptops have bad cameras; they're not ready. Other uses could be ATMs or a person walking to a door. But we think the mobile device is the portal to the digital world, so we are focusing there," he said, in his engaged and personable manner.
On technology challenges to take EyeVerify from academia to commercial use, he said, "Challenges were the controlled environment of the lab, where the subject had to hold perfectly still, follow instructions to a tee. From the lab to the real world, we needed to update the robustness of algorithms, to get better tolerance of a user's eye-veins."
"Your thoughts on behavioral analytics software for Mobile Apps?" I asked.
"Behavioral analytics are great lead indicators, but they are not decisive," Mr. Rush said. "My behavior can change slightly, depending on the day or situation, and that might give different behavioral feedback, which will be hard for any system to make a definitive choice."
On the question of where EyeVerify will be in three years? This simple question gave Mr. Rush pause as he gazed into the near future, then he answered, "People will no longer need to enter passwords to use their smartphones."
The great physicist Albert Einstein daydreamed that he imagined himself as a particle of light, a photon, traveling through space to arrive at his Special Theory of Relativity. If he were alive today, what would he think of the actual eye -- instead of the eye of the mind -- that can now identify an individual as a unique signature?
Kansas City might not be Silicon Valley or New York City's tech scene, but as he said, "Kansas City is a two hour drive to Omaha, Nebraska, and two hours to Des Moines, Iowa. These makeup the new technology hub called Silicon Prairie."