Scenes from The Minority Report have become a reality at a small college in South Carolina. Administrators there are testing out the use of iris scanners to control access to certain buildings.
Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., has been evaluating the scanners for four months. Students and faculty have the iris in their eyes scanned by looking into a mirror that has a camera behind it. (Iris scanning differs from retinal scanning, primarily because it looks at the outside of the eye in infrared light, rather than the back of the eyeball.) The camera is connected to a computer and special software records 250 data points on the eye, measuring the shape of the eye in three dimensions. Once the information is saved in a database, the person needs no other form of identification to gain access to a building, just an eye.
To do so, the person stands in front of device outside the door and looks into a mirror-like screen. A voice prompt her where to position her eye and a scanner analyzes the same data points collected. If those data points match the ones on file, the person gains access.
Using data points, rather than an image of the eye, adds layers of security that cannot be reconstructed.
Iris scanners aren’t new — military bases and other high-security areas have used them before. But in the last few years civilian institutions have started adopting the technology. For a college campus it could make the old student ID card obsolete, and iris scans are even harder to fake than fingerprints. In fact it probably can’t be done, at least not with current technologies.
Winthrop will use the scanners to check people entering an early childhood education school, fulfilling a need to protect the kids inside and ensure that only authorized adults pick them up.
Child safety might be the driver for bringing iris scanners to schools. A South Dakota company, Blinkspot, makes one for school buses, designed to match kids with the right bus, though it isn’t clear that any districts have adopted the technology.
Not everyone is completely happy with that prospect, though. In Polk County, Fla., a school district started its own pilot program to test iris scanners, and the parents reacted badly. The district failed to notify them about the testing and kids came home with stories that must have sounded terribly creepy.
Credit: Varie/ Alt/CORBIS