What is an “antimicrobial” contact fingerprint reader? And what is it NOT?

In the COVID and (soon) post-COVID area, people don’t want to touch things. That impacts how identity products are marketed, including biometric readers.

Why contactless biometrics are “better” than contact biometrics

In the biometric world, this reluctance to touch things has served to promote CONTACTLESS biometric technologies, such as facial recognition, other other technologies. The loser in this has been fingerprint-based technologies, as several facial and iris vendors have made the claim that face/iris biometrics are contactless, while fingerprint biometrics are NOT contactless.

Well, my friends at my former employer IDEMIA might take issue with that claim, since you literally do NOT touch the fingerprint reader in IDEMIA’s MorphoWave product. IDEMIA does not (to my knowledge) make any medical claims about MorphoWave, but the company does emphasize that its contactless fingerprint reader allows for fast capture of four-finger slaps.

To protect their premises, organizations need access control solutions that are efficient, fast, and convenient. A contactless fingerprint scanner provides an optimum answer high throughput workplaces. IDEMIA’s MorphoWave contactless fingerprint solution scans and verifies 4 fingerprints in less than 1 second, through a fully touchless hand wave gesture. Thanks to the simplicity of this gesture, the throughput can reach up to 50 people per minute.

An antimicrobial contact fingerprint reader?

But what if there were a CONTACT solution that allowed you to capture prints with a reduced fear of “bad things”?

That’s what Integrated Biometrics appears to be claiming.

Integrated Biometrics (IB), the world leader in mobile, FBI-certified biometric fingerprint scanners, and NBD Nanotechnologies (NBD Nano), the surface coating experts, today announced the inclusion of NBD’s RepelFlex MBED transparent coating on IB’s entire line of fingerprint scanners.

An ultra-thin, transparent coating, RepelFlex MBED is designed to provide outstanding antimicrobial, anti-scratch, and anti-stain protection to devices. Long-lasting and multi-functional, RepelFlex MBED is ideal for surfaces that must stand up to high throughput and harsh conditions without compromising accuracy.

So what exactly does “antimicrobial” mean?

cluster of Escherichia coli bacteria magnified 10,000 times. By Photo by Eric Erbe, digital colorization by Christopher Pooley, both of USDA, ARS, EMU. – This image was released by the Agricultural Research Service, the research agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, with the ID K11077-1 (next)., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=958857

Let’s see how NBD Nano describes it.

Preventing the presence and growth of microbials on surfaces is becoming increasingly important. Antimicrobial performance is especially critical on surfaces that are accessible to the public in order to prevent the spread of stain and odor causing bacteria and microbes.

And if you drill further down in NBD Nano’s website, you find this information in a technical data sheet (PDF).

Antimicrobial Performance: Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS) Z 2801 – PASS*
*as tested by Microchem Laboratory, Round Rock, TX

Now since I’m not up to date on my Japanese Industrial Standards, I had to rely on the good folks at the aforementioned Microchem Laboratory to explain what the standard actually means.

The JIS Z 2801 method tests the ability of plastics, metals, ceramics and other antimicrobial surfaces to inhibit the growth of microorganisms or kill them. The procedure is very sensitive to antimicrobial activity and has a number of real world applications anywhere from the hospital/clinical environment to a household consumer company concerned with the ability of a material they have to allow bacterial growth.

The JIS Z 2801 method is the most commonly chosen test and has become the industry standard for antimicrobial hard surface performance in the United States.

It may be antimicrobial, but what about preventing the “C” word?

Now you may have noticed that Microchem Laboratory, NBD Nano, and Integrated Biometrics did not make any medical claims regarding their products. None of them, for example, used the “C” word in any of their materials.

There’s a very, very good reason for that.

If any of these product providers were to make specific MEDICAL claims, then any sales in the United States would come under the purview of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

This is something that temperature scanner manufacturers learned the hard way.

Digression: if fever scanners are fever scanners, does that mean they are fever scanners?

Remember “fever scanners”? Those devices that were (and in some cases still are) pointed at your forehead as you enter a building or another secure area? I won’t get into the issues with these devices (what happens when the scanner is placed next to a building’s front entrance on a hot day?), but I will look at some of the claims about those scanners.

About a year ago, John Honovich of IPVM began asking some uncomfortable questions about the marketing of those devices, especially after the FDA clarified what thermal imaging systems could and could not do.

When used correctly, thermal imaging systems generally have been shown to accurately measure someone’s surface skin temperature without being physically close to the person being evaluated….

Thermal imaging systems have not been shown to be accurate when used to take the temperature of multiple people at the same time. The accuracy of these systems depends on careful set-up and operation, as well as proper preparation of the person being evaluated….

Room temperature should be 68-76 °F (20-24 °C) and relative humidity 10-50 percent….

The person handling the system should make sure the person being evaluated…(h)as waited at least 15 minutes in the measurement room or 30 minutes after exercising, strenuous physical activity, bathing, or using hot or cold compresses on the face.

Let’s stop right there. For any of you who have undergone a temperature scan in the last year: how many of you have waited in a measurement room for at least 15 minutes BEFORE your temperature was taken?

Last summer I had a dentist appointment. My dentist is in Ontario, California, where the summers can get kind of hot. The protocol at this dentist’s office was to have you call the office from your car when you arrived in the parking lot, then wait for someone from the office to come outside and take your temperature before you could enter the building.

I was no dummy. I left my car and its air conditioner running while waiting for my temperature to be taken. Otherwise, who knows what my temperature reading would have been? (I also chose NOT to walk to the dentist’s office that day for the same reason.)

Back to John Honovich. He had read the FDA advice on the medical nature of thermal imaging systems, and then noted that some of the manufacturers of said systems were sort of getting around this by stating that their devices were not medical devices.

Even though the manufacturers still referred to them as “fever cameras.”

For example, one vendor (who has since changed its advertising) declared at the time that “thermal temperature-monitoring technology assists in reducing the spread of viral diseases,” even though that vendor’s device “is not a medical device and is not designed or intended for diagnosis, prevention, or treatment of any disease or condition.”

Fever scanners, testosterone supplements…and fingerprint readers

Yes, that language is similar to the language used by providers of natural supplements that, according to anecdotal evidence, work wonders. The FDA really polices this stuff.

So you really don’t want to make medical claims about ANY product unless you can back them up with the FDA. You can say that a particular product passed a particular antimicrobial standard…but you’d better not say anything else.

In fact, Integrated Biometrics only mentions the “antimicrobial” claim in passing, but spends some time discussing other benefits of the NBD Nano technology:

The inclusion of RepelFlex MBED coatings enable IB’s scanners to deliver an even higher level of performance. Surfaces are tougher and more difficult to scratch or stain, increasing their longevity while maintaining print quality even when regular cleaning is not possible due to conditions or times of heavy use.

So the treated Integrated Biometrics products are tough…like those famous 1970s crime fighters Kojak, Columbo, and Danno and the other people from Five-O. (Not that Sherlock and Watson were slouches.)

Book ’em, Danno! By CBS Television – eBay item photo front photo back, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19674714

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