Rob the robot swings into action

The compound fracture in your leg from the hiking accident looked bad but Rob, your personal biometric carer, already had the situation under control.

The second its body monitoring senses detected and accessed the extent of the damage it sent out co-ordinates to emergency response teams, contacted the nearest hospital with preliminary details of the injury, and accessed your health fund to create the necessary channels for future claims.

While Rob’s primary functions relayed information to you about the injury and how response teams were progressing, its sub-routines had sent a signal to your car to return home and relayed commands to your apartment to enter power saving mode, switching off all non-essential appliances.

While you wait for your rescuers you use a combination of voice and visual commands to your digital glasses to get Rob to relay real time updates of your investment portfolio, and decide to pick up a few shares in that health care company you had been thinking about.

It’s the kind of stuff that prompted Ted Dunstone to found the Biometrics Institute in 2001, as he believed the world was on the verge of a biometrics revolution.

Reality check

However, Dunstone was more focused on what current biometric technology could do to enhance people’s lives. Although the institute has gone on to build a global presence in biometric discussion, Dunstone’s expectations of a biometric revolution was more than a decade ahead of reality.

He is now the chief executive of consultancy group Biometix, and is prepared to go “on the record” that 2016 will be the real biometric revolution.

Certainly biometrics is becoming more pervasive. It can be found in finger scanning technology embedded in phones and used for internet banking, at airports as a security measure, and in cars as a safety or security device.

Dunstone says whatever path corporates take to introduce biometrics there are some common elements that have to be present. They include distinctiveness to single out a person, stability that takes into account change like aging, useability to make applications fast and efficient, insensitivity so that changes in an environment do not cause failure, and inclusiveness so that the vast majority of a population can be included.

And it’s interesting how different organisations are approaching biometric deployment.

Real life solutions

For instance, ANZ and National Australia Bank are both following voice recognition identity solutions for mobile banking.

At the Trans-Tasman Business Circle conference last year ANZ Australia chief executive Phil Chronican said he believed there was still resistance to finger and iris scans.

And ANZ is also looking at technology to analyse the emotional state of the caller, to better prioritise and direct calls.

NAB is also trialling voice identity technology.

But it’s quite a different path that Westpac and the St George Banking Group has embarked upon.
St George trialled voice recognition at its call centres five years ago, and had a mixed customer reaction.

Issues like security and even effectiveness took a secondary position to the prime question St George had to ask itself – “have we improved customer experience.” The answer was no.
And that, says St George head of mobile, Travis Tyler, “is because biometrics can’t be about biometrics, it has to be about making customers lives easier.”

Consumers ready for biometrics

St George Group, which includes Bank of Melbourne and Bank SA, recently claimed a world first when it launched an internet banking solution driven by finger print scanning technology enabled in iPhones.

In just three months since launch about 10% of the customer base or 200,000 people have signed up for the service, and as of early May there had not been a single complaint about security.
Parent company Westpac has also adopted the finger scan technology, and St George has apps available for smartwatches, and has one waiting in the wings for Google Glass.

For Tyler St George is on the right path: “It makes banking easier. It’s surprising how many people look at and transfer money about while in a check out at the supermarket. That’s not a place many people want to use voice recognition but finger scanning is great.”

It’s the same on a train where many people fear “shoulder surfers” – people looking over your shoulder while you type in your password to accounts.

St George’s quick and substantial take up of finger scanning technology by its customers suggests it’s not a path to dismiss lightly, and Tyler said within five years he expects biometrics will be far more integrated into everyday life.

Dunstone has the same outlook, and says more biometric devices have been produced in the past six months than throughout all previous production.

It’s already here and now

Outside of banks, voice recognition is common in new cars for changing the radio station, making a phone call or setting the internal temperature.

High security buildings have long used biometrics to increase security, but new systems for logging workers in and out can significantly lower resources needed in areas like timesheets, employee theft and vehicle and equipment asset tracking and monitoring.

And in mass transit and crowd monitoring it has massive potential as certain types of biometrics have potential to scan large numbers of people very quickly.

Beyond finger prints and facial recognition is a whole range of biometric tools, from heartbeat identifiers to vein pattern mapping, iris and ear mapping and even proprioception, which taps into the body’s knowledge of relative positions of body parts. The list of potential biometric signatures is huge.

And in the same way anyone actively participating in information sharing across devices and social media platforms has to accept a level of “privacy spillage”, allowances will have to be made for biometrics.

It is already making its way into schools, meaning a whole generation will grow up comfortable with different forms of body monitoring.

In the UK it is estimated 40% of all schools employ biometrics for uses like ensuring only pupils and teachers get into certain buildings, taking out library books, and handling meal allocations.
While legislation was introduced in the UK in 2012 to ensure schools adhered to strict guidelines in the use of biometric data gathering, there are still reports being made by various interest groups that it’s wrong and a danger to children’s privacy.

St George’s Tyler is a believer that biometrics will make our lives better, although for now he is focused on secure banking technologies that pass the test of convenience, practicality and usefulness.

Biometrics is a tool that must be useful

In a retail store the average consumer is not going to be concerned if a machine is reading a digital signal from their phone or watch or reading their pulse, the experience has to be that it is quick, convenient, and secure.

But when the context is right real change will occur.

Certainly digital document verification using biometric signatures will be a game changer for how business is conducted, from everything from multi-million transactions across international jurisdictions to signing a contract to buy a home.

Tyler says a lot of new legislation will have to be written as biometrics integrates into our lives, but as a banker that accepts and deals with compliance issues every day of his working life, he is relaxed that time will sort out those issues.

And both Tyler and Dunstone expect biometrics will bring about changes that we do not yet consider. Certainly in medicine and health it has enormous applications, as well as security, defence, social media and transport.

And almost certainly Rob the robot will one day be a reality, but just how much red tape has to be dealt with when sending commands, and what will and won’t be considered socially, morally and legally acceptable, is yet to be written.

Dunstone’s view on Biometrics and finance integration

  • Driven by mobile payment systems: Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Android Pay
  • Provides access to customers previously unattainable in places like Asia, Africa and South America – driving microfinance.
  • FIDO Alliance (Fast IDentity Online) striving to set biometric standards. Companies include Google, Bank of America, MasterCard, Microsoft and Visa. Notably Samsung a member but not Apple.
  • Biometrics in banking forecast to exceed $US8 billion by 2020
  • Over 30% of companies expected to be using biometrics by 2016


This article represents the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of BPAY.
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