App, case turns iPhone into on-the-spot biometric scanner

The hardware and software package from AOptix would allow police and the military to take fingerprint, iris, face and voice readings in the field.

Law enforcement officers could soon be able to perform mobile biometric scanning in the field using a regular iPhone 4 or 4S, potentially enabling them to more quickly identify possible suspects on the fly.

The open-architecture technology, called Stratus and developed by Campbell, Calif.-based AOptix, is an app and wrap-around device that turns the iPhone into a portable iris, face, fingerprint and voice scanner.

“Anyone who’s used an iPhone before can pick this up and use it,” said Joey Pritikin, an AOptix vice president, told Wired. Stratus is intended to be used single-handedly and is the first of its kind developed specifically for iPhone. AOptix will also release a software development kit to allow buyers to customize the app.

The Defense Department paid AOptix $3 million to develop an enhanced version of Stratus in February, Mashable reported.

“Our objective in developing AOptix Stratus was to create a product family that would deliver the benefits of biometric identification to a host of new users,” Chuck Yort, vice president and general manager of Identity Solutions at AOptix, said in a release. The device was developed for use by entities such as the police or military.

Current methods of biometric scanning use fixed location solutions or mobile products with limited functionality, Alan Goode, managing director of Goode Intelligence, said in the release.

Law enforcement is embracing mobile technology to more quickly access data in the field. The New York City police are piloting a program to enable officers to access databases of information on everything from criminal records, existing warrants, registered gun owners and motor vehicle records over an Android phone. The phones, which do not make or receive calls, gives officers more complete information more quickly than if they radioed a dispatcher or accessed the information from a laptop in a patrol car, according to the police.

In a similar pilot, law enforcement officers in North Carolina are accessing the state’s criminal database from their smart phones and tablets through a mobile version of the Criminal Justice Law Enforcement Automated Data Services database. The system allows police and other criminal justice professionals who do not have access to PCs or are outside their offices to log on and retrieve information from CJLEADS. 

Other technologies for quickly obtaining and analyzing field data are also proving useful to law enforcement.

After the Boston marathon bombings, police used video analytics to help investigators collect and analyze data from the crime scene. The technology allowed investigators to more quickly and easily comb through hours of digital feeds and thousands of photographs to identify the suspects responsible for detonating two bombs there on April 15.

According to The Week, law enforcement may also have used NGI — Next Generation Identification — to help with its investigation. NGI is an FBI biometrics program that will eventually be able to cross-reference crime-scene photos and video with a database of 12 million images.

NGI’s capabilities (some of the technology is still in development) includes scanning, voice recognition and facial scanning software. Pilots are under way in a few states, and the FBI estimates that NGI could be fully operational next year.

Last year, the FBI made available facial recognition software free of charge to law enforcement agencies. The agency’s facial recognition pilot provides a search of a repository of nearly 13 million criminal mug shot photos taken at time of booking. It is scheduled to be fully operational in the summer of 2014.

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