A new touchscreen display that identifies users by their fingerprints is on the horizon. The device could redefine online security and the way we interact with computers in the public sphere.

Current touchscreen displays emit light but can’t sense it, making it impossible for the screen to recognize fingerprints, unless a supplemental sensor is added to the screen. Researchers Christian Holz and Patrick Baudisch, of the Hasso Plattner Institute in Germany, want to change that.

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“Displays cannot scan fingerprints and fingerprint sensors cannot display images. What we have invented does both. No one has done this before,” Holz told New Scientist.

Their prototype uses a glass screen the size a large tablet, which includes millions of tiny optical fibers bundled together. Each fiber emits rays of light from a projected image below the screen, while an infrared light source bounces light off the fingerprints and back to an infrared camera.

Holz said early tests have yielded fingerprint recognition accuracy “up to FBI standards.” The researchers are now attempting to build a touchscreen that doesn’t require a projector.

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Holz and Baudisch imagine coffee shops investing in large, interactive touchscreen table tops where customers, instead of bringing their laptops, could browse the Internet, answer emails or get a little work done. Due to the screen’s fingerprint-identifying capabilities, researchers even envision an environment where highly sensitive e-documents could be safely and securely shared across a table.

When and if these biometric touchscreens land in public, let’s just hope whoever is in charge of their upkeep owns some heavy-duty glass cleaner with extra disinfectant.

via New Scientist

Credit: Hasso Plattner Institute