Startup Unveils Cheaper Fingerprint Scanner

Fidelica Microsystems has developed a unique sensor that measures the difference in pressure between the ridges and valleys of a fingerprint, which the company claims makes it more reliable than traditional devices.

A Silicon Valley startup on Monday will unveil new fingerprint-scanning technology that company officials say is far cheaper and more reliable than traditional scanning devices.

Fidelica Microsystems Inc. has developed a unique sensor that measures the difference in pressure between the ridges and valleys of a fingerprint. Traditional fingerprint-scanning devices use a light source to measure the distance between the scanner and the finger, but the results can be fouled by moisture, dirt or other substances on the finger.

Fidelicas sensor is about the size of a postage stamp and comprises thousands of tiny sensing cells. Unlike other sensors, which utilize semiconductors made from silicon wafers, the Fidelica devices are manufactured using glass substrates, a much cheaper process, according to K.G. Ganapathi, president and CEO of Fidelica, based in Milpitas, Calif.

And that, along with the smaller size and low power requirements of the device, gives Fidelica a unique offering, Ganapathi said.

"The three main obstacles to biometric adoption are power, size and price," he said. "Our manufacturing process is much cheaper than using silicon, and we can meet power-usage requirements for cellular phones."

It costs about $2 to manufacture one of Fidelicas sensors, as opposed to as much as $20 for a silicon-based sensor. The sensors will sell for less than $10.

Fidelica plans to sell its sensors to smart-card manufacturers, cell-phone vendors and other OEMs, as well as to some of its competitors in the biometrics market who are looking for a cheaper hardware device to go with their proprietary software.

Ganapathi believes that biggest markets for the sensors will be the PDA and handset manufacturers that need a low-cost, low-power authentication technology.

The software application that accompanies Fidelicas sensor is small—about 100KB—and enables the administrator to determine how closely the scan must match the fingerprint on file in order to grant access.