Fujitsu eyes major share of fingerprint sensor market

Fujitsu Ltd. is planning a major push into the fingerprint sensor market and has set out a goal to grab just under 50 percent of the global market by 2004.

The company has been experimenting with fingerprint sensor and verification technology for use in applications such as security for around ten years. It has more recently been making sensor chips under contract for Veridicom Inc., a U.S.-based leader in such technology, and in August licensed Veridicom's technology and fingerprint authentication software so that it could build it into its own products, said Nancy Ikehara, a spokeswoman for Fujitsu.

With technology gained under license from Veridicom now part of its own knowledge base, Fujitsu has established a dedicated fingerprint sensor development center at its Fujitsu Microelectronics Inc. subsidiary in San Jose, California. Among its plans is to build a fingerprint sensor chip, with integrated memory, for use in new smart cards that can only be used by an authorized owner.

The technology works by using the user's finger as one plate of a capacitor. The sensor chip, which has about 90,000 capacitor plates etched onto its surface, makes up the other half of the capacitor and enables the system to produce a scan of the user's finger at about 500 dpi (dots per inch) resolution. Software then converts this image into a unique signature file that is about 300 bytes to 600 bytes in size.

Such is the level of security offered by such systems that Fujitsu estimates the global market will be worth 100 billion yen (US$800 million) by 2004, and the company wants to grab between 45 percent and 50 percent of this market, said Ikehara. By contrast, the current global market is worth about 2 billion yen, according to Fujitsu's estimates.

Fujitsu made headlines in the fingerprint recognition field in 1997 when the company unveiled the first sensor unit built on to a PC Card. Designed for use with notebook computers, the card slotted into the side of the machine and would only allow access to the machine and its data after verifying the identity of the user.

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