Billions of people around the world use biometric systems in a variety of applications. Access control, time and attendance, digital payments with biometrics, etc. are already popular and new applications continue to emerge. Biometric systems, specially fingerprint and palm print readers are immensely popular in organizational settings. Organizations choose biometrics over traditional approaches to improve identification, authentication or access control.
Despite the recent growth of contact-less / touch-less biometric solutions such as face and iris recognition, contact-based biometric systems still hold a huge chunk of market share. However, in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, this situation may seem to be changing. Biometric solution providers are experiencing an upsurge in the demand of contact-less biometric solutions.
This article focuses on Covid-19 pandemic; how it has raised hygiene concerns and how contact-less biometrics is emerging as a solution.
Covid-19 pandemic is making businesses change course
As Covid-19 pandemic expends its reach to the remotest places on the planet, stringent preventive measures such as curfews, lock-downs, stay-at-home orders, etc. comes along. Free movement is restricted to curb the virus spread. These countermeasures seem to be working as some countries have been able to contain the disease, including China where the first infection was reported.
Lock-downs, curfews and stay-at-home orders, however, causes severe collateral damage to businesses, trade and economy. These preventives measures have started to impact business activities. Stock markets have fallen, global trade is almost ceased and GDP estimates have shrunken. Some industry types such as airlines, hospitality, tourism, etc. are already preparing for the worse, while others are trying to adjust to the situation.
Reduced staffing and work from home
Due to restriction of movement, employees have been either asked to work from home or offices are operating with reduced staff. Organizations are taking workplace hygiene more seriously and pushing best practices in Covid-19 outbreak. Factories and production facilities, which are allowed to operate, are emphasizing social distancing along with other preventive measures.
Enhanced sanitization and decontamination
At workplaces, frequent sanitization of shared surfaces, washing / sanitizing hands, social distancing, wearing masks, etc. are the new normal. For our fingerprint device users, we have already published a thorough guide on fingerprint disinfection. Since many parts of the world are expecting second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, these preventive measures are expected to last as long as the disease is not fully contained.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, social distancing has emerged as one the biggest weapons against the disease. Social distancing is a preventive approach against a contagious disease, in which human-to-human infection chain is broken by maintaining physical distance from each other.
Since it is now established that the coronavirus pandemic’s infection spreads from human-to-human in, adopting social distancing at public places and workplaces can save you from catching the virus. Social distancing at workplace scan not only save from Covid-19,but also from other contagious diseases such as flu, common cold, etc. which can sometimes be mistaken for Covid-19.
Post lock-down: Covid-19 can still affect your business operations
Many countries are now laying road-map to ease lock-downs to start businesses and economic activities; however, risk of Covid-19 will continue on if preventive measures are not in place.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, touching or holding surfaces shared by many people was not a problem. But now when experts have suggested that touching contaminated surfaces can lead to the infection, it has raised hygiene concerns, specially at public places and workplaces.
Biometric devices such as fingerprint / palm-print based time and attendance systems, access control systems, etc. require people to touch the device in order to perform identification or authentication. At public settings and workplaces, these devices are shared by many, which can be a problem during the Covid-10 pandemic.
For an instance, if an infectious individual uses a touch-based time and attendance system at the workplace, it can get contaminated with the virus. Since these devices are shared by many, they can become a medium to spread the disease to others. As more people catch the infection and continue using the device; more contamination the device will receive and spread further, leaving all users infected eventually.
Just like public places, workplaces can be vulnerable to coronavirus infection, which it can spread throughout the organization if preventive measures are not taken seriously. Workplaces can even be more vulnerable than public places. Unlike public places, people at workplaces spend a great deal of time together. An infectious individual can spared the infection to several others even before it is detected. Post-detection, self-quarantine and isolation requirement will eventually hamper the business operations.
Contact-less / touch-less to become the new normal
At workplaces, there can be no escape from sharing surfaces, however, technology and preventive measures can help reduce the risk of infection.
Shared surfaces require regular disinfection / decontamination, which in turn require chemicals. These chemicals may not be suitable for delicate surfaces and electronic equipment. To overcome this, businesses are now looking at contact-less approaches wherever they can be leveraged. Sensor controlled doors, toilet flushes, water taps, etc. are already common at workplaces. Even contact-less elevator buttons are here to save you from touching shared surfaces. Biometric solutions providers are also trying to ride the contact-less wave.
Owing to the rise in the popularity of biometrics, many organizations have replaced their physical and digital access control, time and attendance, etc. with biometrics. Fingerprint recognition remains the most popular biometric modality; however, it is a touch-based biometric recognition approach, which raises hygiene concerns. It became so much concerning amid the pandemic that some countries stopped using fingerprint scanners.
Covid-19: contact-less biometric solutions’ demand increases
Owing to the rising hygiene concerns among people, organizations are also looking at contact-less / touch-less biometric solutions to fulfill their identification / authentication needs without compromising on safety. As the name suggests, contact-less or touch-less biometric solutions are the solutions that do not require a physical contact with the device while placing an identification, authentication or access control request. It has led to a dramatic demand increase for contact-less biometric solutions.
The chaos created by coronavirus pandemic has also offered an opportunity for biometric technology firms. Biometric solution providers are rushing touch-less biometric solutions that enables contact-less biometric identification and identification. Many tech firms have already introduced their products while many others are working on it. This demand upsurge is also helping biometric technology evolve as manufactures are pushing the limits.
Touch-less biometric solutions with body temperature detection
Some countries including the United States are now planning to ease the lock-downs. However, organizations around the world are already strained with considering possibility of infected individuals coming to the workplace, stores, shopping malls, etc.
As workplaces open, shared biometric scanners for employee / visitor identification, time and attendance, etc. can become the potential hotspots to spread the disease.
Fever is the most common symptom of Covid-19, and can be useful to detect a potentially infected individual. However, checking temperatures manually can be time consuming as well as risky.
Employee time and attendance is an important function at workplaces and the first activity most employees start their day at work with. Many businesses also use them to identify customers or making payments.
To curb these concerns, biometric equipment manufacturers are now offering touch-less biometric solutions that can measure body temperature while performing biometric recognition without any physical contact.
Lamasa Tech, a UK based technology solution firm has introduced a temperature pass management and face recognition kiosk that can detect body temperature while identifying the individual with his/her face. This kiosk can vet high risk user from entering workplaces, factories, healthcare sites, etc., ensuring security for healthy individuals. The system can maintain time stamped history of employees and other individuals on record. It can also be integrated with turnstile and access doors.
Biometric identification / authentication with mask on
In wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, healthcare agencies around the world are now suggesting people to wear masks as a preventive measure. In some countries such as Japan, South Korea, etc. people wear masks regularly, even in normal circumstances. Chances are that a lot of people are going to wear them as long as the pandemic lasts, and may be beyond.
Since masks are here to stay, experts are working on identification of individuals wearing masks, without the need to remove them.
According a report published in Reuters, a Chinese company Hanwang Technology Ltd. has developed a recognition technology that can identify people even when they are wearing a face mask. Surprisingly enough, this technology makes use of face recognition instead of any eye based recognition technique.
NEC has also developed a facial recognition technology that can recognize people even if their face is covered with a mask. NEC has deployed its home grown technology to its Tokyo headquarter, where NEC employees do not have to remove mask to get identified.
Similar solutions have been rushed by other companies such as Japan’s Fujitec, Germany’s Dermalog, etc. Many Chinese companies are also working on the touch-less biometric solutions that can identify individuals wearing masks and detect their body temperature.
Should I switch to contact-less biometric solutions?
We understand that the contact-less biometrics can mitigate the risk of coronavirus infection, an advantage that touch-based biometric scanners lack. Now, the most imperative question you would be asking is: Should I switch to contact-less biometric solutions for my access control, time and attendance and other biometric identification needs? The answer is not as straightforward.
If your organization does not leverage biometric technology at all, now is the time to consider it. If you have been already thinking about investing on biometric security, it will be the perfect time to consider contact-less biometric solutions. But what about the organizations that already have a touch-based biometric infrastructure in place?
Amid Covid-19 crisis, switching to touch-less biometrics may seem like a perfect solution, and why not? It can save you from the risk of present and future disease outbreaks. However, it is not just the biometric scanners that are shared by users. In fact biometric scanners can be among the least shared surfaces in your organization if they are used just for clock-in or clock-out.
If you are planning to go contact-less then why only on biometric scanners? A complete organization-wide implementation of contact-less technology may require a huge infrastructural alteration. It should include touch-less door entry to touch-less coffee maker. Will your organization be able to bear such an investment amid Covid-10 induced economic downfall and almost inevitable recession?
Existing users of touch-based biometric technology do not need to despair. If you already have touch-based biometric infrastructure in place, which have been working just fine, investing on sanitizers and decontaminates will be a wiser decision. A simple hand-wash or use of sanitizer after the biometric scan can save your employees from catching the virus, and you from heavy investment.
It has been now established that shared surfaces contaminated with coronavirus, can contribute to spread Covid-19 pandemic. So avoiding shared surfaces at public places, workplaces, public transport, etc. becomes extremely crucial. People are also getting anxious to touch shared surfaces.
Some Japanese and Chinese manufacturers have started introducing contact-less biometric solution aligned with current requirements. Most of these products make use of face and pattern recognition technologies. These devices can also check body temperature and raise alert. Some contact-less biometric solutions can even recognize individuals with a face mask on.
Organizations that are going to invest in biometric recognition tech for the first time, Covid-19 pandemic has given them a reason to consider touch-less biometric solution. These organizations can invest their money on biometric solutions more wisely. It will mitigate the hygiene concerns during current and future disease outbreaks.
Organizations that have already invested and deployed touch-based biometric recognition systems do not necessarily need to reinvest on touch-less biometric solutions, specially if their budget do not allow. They can still stay operational and to go with best practices in Covid-19 outbreak.