By Cindy Mindell
FAIRFIELD – Of the eight million patents issued in the U.S., only 487 have been chosen for inclusion in the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s National Inventors Hall of Fame. Created in 1973, the institution recognizes such luminaries as Alfred Nobel, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers,
Robert Fulton, and Steve Jobs.
Last month, a Fairfield resident joined the select ranks. Dr. Leonard Flom, an ophthalmologist, together with colleague Dr. Aran Safir z”l (1926-2007), were acknowledged for the invention of the iris-recognition scanner. A New York City native, Safir served on the faculty at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and was also director of ophthalmology at UConn, along with many other academic and hospital appointments, until his retirement in 1989.
“The human iris, fingerprints, facial recognition, and DNA are biometrics,” characteristics or traits used to identify human beings, Flom explains. “Each, by itself, is capable of identifying an individual accurately. The fingerprint or footprint is the oldest method of identification; DNA may be used when cellular material can be obtained from the body. Facial biometrics can easily be masked, or altered by changes that occur from trauma and pathology. The iris is an ideal biometric because it has many advantages over the other two. Namely, that each is unique for every individual – including in identical twins. Each contains more detailed information than any other part of the human body, and access to the iris does not require contact with the body.”
Today, iris recognition is considered to be the most accurate in the field of biometric identification based on physical or behavioral characteristics. Iris-recognition technology works by matching a scanned image of a user’s iris with a previously collected image in order to confirm that individual’s identity.
The iris provides a more stable measure than the retina, also accessed by scanning technology for identification purposes.
“The major problem with the retina functioning as a feasible biometric identification is the pupil,” Flom says. “To access the retina, which is inside and at the back of the eye, imaging it is very difficult when the pupil is contracted and small. In addition, the retina is prone to many pathological conditions, whereas the iris remains stable throughout life and can be imaged both close and at a great distance.”
The iris is even accessible in an individual who is blind, Flom says, unless the iris is absent or the cornea is opaque, thereby blocking access to the iris.
The iris can be imaged by any digital camera or iPad or a Smartphone, as long as it has high enough resolution. “Therefore, in the future, no one need know your name or address for you to be identified, and you will no longer need a license with your photo or remember a PIN,” Flom says. “At a point of sale, for example, if your iris is registered in a database, the check-out person just has to take a photo of your iris with a simple digital camera and instantly match it with your database entry. Your record will show that you have a certain amount of money in the bank and can make the purchase.”
Flom and Safir received a patent for their innovation in 1987, but the technology was only recognized in the wake of 9/11 and resulting focus on national security. The Hall of Fame chose iris-identification technology as a biometric that will soon play a major role in that regard, Flom says.
The technology is currently being tested in Israel. Flom has been working with Dr. Ophir Almog, a remote-sensing expert at Technion–Israel Institute of Technology. The pair developed a new algorithm that has been Beta-tested with newborns and their birth mothers in the birth rooms of Assaf HaRofeh Medical Center in central Israel. The technology enrolls the mother’s iris and the baby’s ear in a database so as to make certain that the mother leaves with the right baby upon discharge.
Because the test has proven successful, the technology will now be part of an extensive statistical study at New York University School of Medicine, where Flom is clinical assistant professor of ophthalmology. A simultaneous study is in the works, to learn when an infant’s iris develops sufficiently to use it as a permanent means of lifetime identification.
Flom and Almog also received a patent in 2008 for technology that can image the human skeleton through clothing, skin, and tissue at a distance using harmless penetrating radar. “Soon biometrics will play a major role in our security because although, at a distance, terrorists can mask their faces, irises, and the way they walk or talk, they cannot possibly mask their skeletal structure,” Flom says. “Skeletal scanning will be their undoing.”
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