SAN JOSE, Calif. Seeking to bring fingerprint authentication technology to the mainstream consumer markets, fingerprint sensor developer AuthenTec Inc. is preparing a major one-two punch.
AuthenTec recently rolled out a low-power fingerprint sensor for handsets. On Monday (Feb. 25), it unveiled it Borah product, which it claims is the industry's first "single-chip, match-on-a-sensor" device for use in notebook PCs.
The emerging security feature works though a tiny fingerprint sensor embedded in a laptop, a cellphone or other systems. Users must brush their finger tip over the sensor to gain access to the system.
Still, there is one major drawback with the technology: Most consumers are reluctant to use it. "The technology has come of age," but "only one in five end-users are using" fingerprint authentication in notebook PCs equipped with the technology, said Imran Khan, an analyst with market researcher Frost & Sullivan.
AuthenTec claims to have found the right formula to boost acceptance of the technology.
Borah, to be marketed by AuthenTec as the AES2810, promises to bring a new level of fingerprint-based biometric security at a lower price. Many fingerprint sensors are two-chip solutions that require an ASIC or companion chip. Much, if not all, fingerprint matching is handled by a separate host processor.
The AES2810 integrates several components on the same device, including its proprietary RF-based sensor technology, a hardware security module and a matching engine that performs 128-bit encryption and decryption. The ability to handle the matching functions on the chip "significantly reduces bill-of-material costs" for OEMs, said Jeff Lee, director of product marketing for AuthenTec (Melbourne, Fla.). Harris Corp. spun out its fingerprint sensor unit in 1998 into a new and independent company called AuthenTec.
Fingerprint sensor technology has been in development for decades. The technology began to gain traction in the consumer markets in 2005, when IBM Corp.'s former PC unit rolled out a system with an embedded fingerprint sensor. (IBM later sold its PC unit to China's Lenovo.).
In the notebook PC market, "we saw the ignition point in 2005," said Greg Goelz, vice president of marketing at Upek Inc. (Emeryville, Calif.), the world's second largest supplier of fingerprint sensors, behind AuthenTec. In 2004, STMicroelectronics Inc. spun off its fingerprint sensor business into an independent company called Upek.
The technology is now moving to cars, cellphones, USB drives and even garage door openers, Goelz said. For example, the Chamberlain Group Inc.'s LiftMaster brand is selling a keyless garage door opener based on a fingerprint sensor from Upek.
About 18 vendors are scrambling to develop and ship fingerprint sensor devices. In total, the silicon-based fingerprint market is projected to reach $234.9 million in 2008, up 47.6 percent from 2007, according to Frost & Sullivan. By 2013, the business is expected to hit $2 billion for a compound annual growth rate of 50.6 percent, according to the market researcher.
Many of the emerging players are start-ups, including Atrua, AuthenTec, Idex, Fingerprint Cards, Upek and Validity Sensors. Larger vendors such as Atmel and Fujitsu appear to be losing steam in the segment, according to analysts.
Fingerprint sensors are geared for three basic markets: notebook PCs, wireless devices and access control. The traditional access control market involves the use of fingerprint or other type of biometric technologies in airports and government buildings. Vendors also sell expensive optical fingerprint sensors with high resolutions.