FBI fingerprint research helps spawn an industry

Wednesday, 25 September 2002, 12:50 AM EST

To a large extent, the modern biometrics industry was born out of efforts to commercialize the Federal Bureau of Investigation's groundbreaking fingerprint scanning technology.

In the mid-1960s, the FBI asked researchers at the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology) to study the feasibility of using technology to "read" the unique ridges and whorls of human fingerprints, said Robert Last, a computer specialist and acting section chief in the FBI's national fingerprinting division.

Delivered to the FBI in 1972, the first prototype device based on that research was several feet tall, nearly as wide and "extremely slow," Last said. The device couldn't run comparisons and was only capable of scanning fingerprints and converting the ridge and whorl patterns into empirical data points.

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