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Give Microsoft Your Finger...Print RRS feed

  • Question

  • Fingerprints are some of the (few) features which are unique to each individual on this planet, and have been used for decades in order to identify people, although generally in less-than-ordinary conditions, as for example in the cases when they had perpetrated some type of crime. That's the reason why all the people taken into custody by the police have their fingerprints taken, as there's actually a whole science dedicated to the study and development of new means of identification of these seemingly random and barely unnoticeable lines on our fingers, a science that - in time - has helped quite a lot in solving lots of crime cases and more. However, over time, the unique character of fingerprints gave some people the idea of using them as means of identification and access, and that's how the concept of fingerprint reader emerged (as well as the concept of biometric ID cards, but that's a completely different story and not the subject of this article). It's now quite a well known fact that these devices have been around for some time now, although they've been generally used for military purposes, and only (relatively) recently became available (and affordable) for the consumer market. Fingerprint (also known as biometric) readers have become very popular on the consumer electronics' market during the past few years, and there are lots of devices of this type out there, either standalone or built-into other products. And today I'll show you one of the most famous fingerprint readers, namely the one developed by Microsoft.

    But before talking about the product developed by the hardware engineers from Redmond, let's first see how such a device works, in....

    A short wiki look at the fingerprint reader concept

    According to Wikipedia (not the most trustworthy of sources, but - in this case - the entry on this product is quite OK), a “fingerprint sensor is an electronic device used to capture a digital image of the fingerprint pattern. The captured image is called a live scan. This live scan is digitally processed to create a biometric template (a collection of extracted features) which is stored and used for matching.

    Optical fingerprint imaging involves capturing a digital image of the print using visible light. This type of sensor is, in essence, a specialized digital camera. The top layer of the sensor, where the finger is placed, is known as the touch surface. Beneath this layer is a light-emitting phosphor layer which illuminates the surface of the finger. The light reflected from the finger passes through the phosphor layer to an array of solid state pixels (a charge coupled device) which captures a visual image of the fingerprint.

    A scratched or dirty touch surface can cause a bad image of the fingerprint. The disadvantage of this type of sensor is the fact that the imaging capabilities are affected by the quality of skin on the finger. For instance, a dirty or marked finger is difficult to image properly. Also, it is possible for an individual to erode the outer layer of skin on the fingertips to the point where the fingerprint is no longer visible.”

    My conclusion? It's nothing more than a dedicated scanner, with dedicated software that helps in the immediate identification of the special characteristics of our fingerprints. But that's just me. In any case, after this little venture into the way this device works, let's study the....

    Design savvy, Microsoft style: The Fingerprint reader look and design features

    Microsoft might be good at a lot of things, but aesthetics isn’t one of them, that's for sure. The device has a very boring look, but hey, it's 2 years old, so guess I shouldn't complain. It's made from plastic, with a metallic gray finishing and a black backside. The scanner sensor has red LEDs (which kind of reminded me of the light saber of a sinister character from Star Wars whose image is often associated to the company from Redmond), while the plastic glass on which the user has to place his/her index finger is quite tough, yet very difficult to clean.

    The general feeling I got when looking at this device - at least from the aesthetic point of view - was of utter dullness (well, except for the pretty red lights, that is). It's not ugly, but it's not attractive either. It's something that you wouldn't even notice on a desk if it weren't for the light. Or perhaps that's what the guys from Microsoft had in mind when they've designed it?
    Wednesday, March 14, 2007 12:54 PM

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