How Biometrics Works

Hand and Finger Geometry

A hand geometry scanner
A hand geometry scanner
Photo courtesy Ingersoll-Rand

People's hands and fingers are unique -- but not as unique as other traits, like fingerprints or irises. That's why businesses and schools, rather than high-security facilities, typically use hand and finger geometry readers to authenticate users, not to identify them. Disney theme parks, for example, use finger geometry readers to grant ticket holders admittance to different parts of the park. Some businesses use hand geometry readers in place of timecards.

Systems that measure hand and finger geometry use a digital camera and light. To use one, you simply place your hand on a flat surface, aligning your fingers against several pegs to ensure an accurate reading. Then, a camera takes one or more pictures of your hand and the shadow it casts. It uses this information to determine the length, width, thickness and curvature of your hand or fingers. It translates that information into a numerical template.

Hand and finger geometry systems have a few strengths and weaknesses. Since hands and fingers are less distinctive than fingerprints or irises, some people are less likely to feel that the system invades their privacy. However, many people's hands change over time due to injury, changes in weight or arthritis. Some systems update the data to reflect minor changes from day to day.

For higher-security applications, biometric systems use more unique characteristics, like voices. We'll look at those next.