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retina scan

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Retina scanning is a biometric verification technology that uses an image of an individual’s retinal blood vessel pattern as a unique identifying trait for access to secure installations.

Biometric verification technologies are based on ways in which individuals can be uniquely identified through one or more distinguishing biological traits. Unique identifiers include fingerprints, hand geometry, earlobe geometry, retina and iris patterns, voice waves, DNA and signatures. 

Retina scanners are in use in many military bases, nuclear reactors and other high-security locations due to their strength as a security measure. Retina scans are nearly impossible to fake. Furthermore, because the retina decays so quickly after death, a scan can only be accessed from a living human.

Although some smartphone apps claim to be based on retina scanning they are usually based on iris scanning, a method of identifying people based on unique patterns within the ring-shaped region surrounding the pupil of the eye. Retinas scans are about 70 times more accurate than iris scans and 20,000 times more accurate than fingerprint-based methods. However, a retina scan does require the subject to focus on a single point for the entire 15-second duration.

Retina scanning goes back as far as 1935 in conception, by Doctors Carleton Simon and Isadore Goldstein. Commercialized use goes back to 1984 with the company Eyedentity, which pioneered the first devices that used retina scanning technology.

This was last updated in July 2014

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