Saving faces

Toward the end of last year the U.S. State Department announced its intention to replace the current U.S. passport with new "smart passports" that include identity information in a computer chip embedded in the back cover of the familiar blue booklet.

Toward the end of last year the U.S. State Department announced its intention to replace the current U.S. passport with new "smart passports" that include identity information in a computer chip embedded in the back cover of the familiar blue booklet. If all goes to plan every new or renewed passport will contain these "embedded biometrics" by 2006. This new U.S. passport--together with new U.S. regulations requiring other countries to follow suit--will put biometrics into the mainstream of everyday life. And not just for travelers. Other countries are also looking at implementing national identity cards and driving licenses with embedded biometrics--in the U.K., for example, one existing proposal suggests adding fingerprints and iris scans as well as digitized pictures to identity papers.

The U.S. scheme, however, is limited to face-recognition technology and the chip apparently will contain only the information that is already in existing passports. But under the new system a face scan will be compared at immigration points with the digitized passport image and measurements such as the distance in pixels between eyes and between ears will be matched. Such comparisons eliminate the effects of superficial changes like haircut or weight loss. For a detailed discussion of biometrics and face recognition, see p. 96.

Looking ahead

February brings Part II of our annual market review and forecast (Part I ran last month), which highlights the growing dominance of semiconductor lasers in the global laser marketplace. The diode-laser markets are rebounding across all sectors and the outlook for this year is for overall sales growth of 11% (see p. 71). The brighter outlook for lasers and sources is complemented by similarly optimistic prospects for sales of optical sensors. According to a study of the image-sensor market by Strategies Unlimited (Mountain View, CA), sales of CMOS sensors are expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 29% though 2008 with CCD image sensors trailing at a 1% rate (see "Inside Imaging," p. 55). Besides the low-cost high-volume applications for which CMOS sensors are typically targeted, these sensors are moving into niche markets that were previously the territory of CCDs. In one example, CMOS devices are finding favor in the world of high-speed imaging where their flexibility and faster readout rates offer some unique benefits (see p. 83).

Stephen G. Anderson
Associate Publisher/Editor in Chief
[email protected]

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