‘World’s first’ biometric fingerprint scanner for newborns

Fingerprint biometric scanners might be a popular tool for law enforcement and securing smartphones, but it could also help improve vaccination rates in developing countries.

Japanese tech firm NEC has developed what it claims is the world’s first fingerprint scanner that can be used to identify newborns and infants.

The purpose of the technology, which was developed in conjunction with Anil Jain, a professor at Michigan State University, is to help track vaccination schedules for infants in developing countries where children often lack any official identification documents. The scanner may help healthcare providers in these areas identify babies and match them as they become older.

As the company notes, infants’ small, soft fingers make it difficult to use standard fingerprint capture devices that are designed for an adult’s larger fingers and more well developed prints. Babies also tend to be fidgety and since the ridges and valleys of their fingerprint aren’t as defined, it’s difficult to take a clear image.

The new device weighs 50 grams with casing that's 72mm long, 35mm wide, and 7.5mm thick with a tapered edge that’s supposed to make it more comfortable for both the child and the operator. It also features a 1,270 ppi high resolution CMOS image sensor and a glass plate for image enhancement.

Using a prototype made by NEC, Jain ran field trials with a prototype in India where it was used to capture fingerprint images of over 300 children. More than 100 of them were younger than six months old.

Jain and fellow researchers were responsible for developing a neural network that has improved the quality of fingerprint scans as well as recognition and matching. Those machine-learning algorithms allowed him identify with 99 percent accuracy infants who were first scanned at 6 months or older, while matching rates fell to 80 percent for babies scanned at four weeks.

As Jain noted in a recent paper, one of the key problems in tracking vaccinations schedules and so preventing millions of deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases is that children don’t have any identification documents. Biometric identification at an earlier age could help address this. Other applications include identifying missing babies and preventing babies from being swapped in hospitals.

India of course is home to the one of the world’s largest biometric databases thanks to the Aadhaar ID program, which collects iris and fingerprint scans of citizens. However, according to Jain, that system only captures fingerprints for children as young as five due to the limits of existing scanning and matching technology. Previous research put the lower age limit of possible capture at 2.5 years.

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