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Military challenges pose tougher obstacles than commercial

Neil Norman - Founder HRSIt may seem obvious, but the demands placed on biometric systems by the military are far tougher than the commercial world. The unique environment in which we have to deploy military systems is typically without a reliable power supply and in an asynchronous format; that is with no reliable network connection.

Physically military systems have to be robust and rugged, survive challenging environmental factors such as water and sand, and foolproof as they may be in the hands of young military people on the front line, who have to get the job done quickly, efficiently and effectively, often under pressure.


Iris recognition is growing to be the most popular biometric to use. Not only is it the most unique but it is also the ‘cleanest’; you may lose fingerprints or even fingers, but a speck of dust in the eye is soon removed.

One issue we recently came across in one of our military deployments was trying capturing iris prints outdoors in the Middle East on a hot, sunny day. It is difficult as individuals tend to squint. Iris capture is usually carried out at a distance of about 20 inches so your irises are in the open. Due to the conditions, this was not possible, so we re-engineered the system so people put their eyes up to what looks like a set of binoculars. That encloses your eyes from the light and we get a really good capture of the irises, but iris recognition works even better as part of a complete picture.

There is a new trend in what I’d call fusion intelligence. You can have a single modality of biometric data like iris or fingerprint, and that will help you with one particular mission set. But by combining biometric data with other factors such as geo-stamping to track locations, or vehicles the individual is associated with, you get more of a pattern. A facial match will only give you 40% confidence of an identity; when you build up intelligence around that event, you can inform better decisions.

We call all that intel identity vetting; giving confidence that the identity is who it claims to be before confirming it with an iris capture. We build up the intelligence picture before we know who someone is, then we put the facial recognition or fingerprint on it and then we can say right, you’re Tom, and work back from that point to say Tom was here, here and here.

Military procurement needs to change

The technology’s moving really fast, but it may take four years for a military procurement to be realised, by which time it’s already two years out of date. If you’re buying a fighter jet or a warship, that requires a long-term procurement cycle. But that same cycle is often applied to the procurement of fast-paced technology and it just doesn’t work. For the military to get best value for money out of the newly evolving biometric technology, it needs to change its procurement cycles.

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