Capturing a person’s electronic signature

The electronic signature is based on the electronic signals of our body current, the signals we give off automatically and continuously as our heart beats, our brain whirrs, and we breathe and function.When it comes to biometric devices, traditional image …

The electronic signature is based on the electronic signals of our body current, the signals we give off automatically and continuously as our heart beats, our brain whirrs, and we breathe and function.When it comes to biometric devices, traditional image capturing methods like fingerprinting and palm prints, are not overly accurate according to Baruch Levanon, CEO and co-founder of Israeli start-up company IDesia. Biometrics is a form of verification – like fingerprinting – that uses technology to identify features particular to an individual’s body.

“The fact that you can identify a person is almost random,” explains Levanon, the former founder and CEO of Power Paper, a promising company that had developed paper-thin batteries and plans a public offering next year. “At the end of the day, none of the biometric methods on the market can give 100 percent reliability.”

That could be about to change, according to Levanon. IDesia has developed a new biometric technology that can identify the unique natural electro Bio-Dynamic Signature (BDS) of individuals. The electronic signature is based on the electronic signals of our body current, the signals we give off automatically and continuously as our heart beats, our brain whirrs, and we breathe and function. No two people have the same signature.

What makes this technology even more appealing, says Levanon, is the fact that unlike existing solutions, IDesia’s electronic signature can be captured with relative ease, and also, significantly, at a fraction of the price making it suitable for mass produced consumer electronics. “This is a breakthrough technology that will lead the biometric industry into mainstream acceptance,” he told ISRAEL21c.

The field of biometrics is growing fast. Three years ago hardly anyone knew what biometrics was, today everyone is familiar with the term. “Originally it was connected to criminality – the FBI and police force,” says Levanon. “Today the whole image is different. People recognize that using biometric technologies can make their lives much easier. They realize it is for their own convenience and security.”

The figures back this up. Analyst firm, Frost & Sullivan estimates that revenue in the global biometrics market will grow from about $300 million in 2003 to $3.2 billion in 2008.

Much of this awareness has emerged in the wake of 9/11 as more emphasis is placed on security at borders, airports, and workplaces. The increasing reliance on virtual operations has also, however, had an impact. Enterprises today are desperately hunting for more secure ways to identify users who log on to public or private networks, or who carry out financial transactions over the Internet.

As a result, industry experts predict that biometric applications developed to help secure financial transactions – particularly for e-commerce, or m-commerce through PCs, PDAs and cellphones – will see the largest market growth.

IDesia was founded at the start of 2004 by Dr. Daniel Lange – an electronic engineer and the inventor of the BDS technology, Levanon, and Yossie Gross, who previously worked at Elan Medical Technologies, and VisionCare Opthalmic Technologies. Initially the three men invested their own money in the technology, but in 2004, security software company Aladdin Knowledge Systems, invested $1 million in the start-up’s first round of financing, at a company value of $5m. The company was originally called C-Signature, but the founders later changed the name to IDesia.

The basic principle of IDesia’s technology is that a user will touch the tiny BDS sensor for anything up to 7-8 seconds, depending on the levels of accuracy required, and the sensor will then identify their electronic signature. No dedicated reader is required.

“The technology is ideal for the consumer electronics market because the sensors are smaller and more durable than other methods, they are easy to use, require little power and are much, much cheaper than alternatives,” says Levanon. “This is very important when you are talking about a mass market.”

He points out, for example, that fingerprinting – which now dominates about 50% of the biometric market and is one of the cheapest biometric options, is still relatively expensive in comparison to the BDS sensor because it based on silicon. It is also very fragile. Finger print sensors have already been added to the new IBM Thinkpad, and a number of maintenance problems have arisen.

“If you drop a pen on the sensor by accident it breaks,” insists Levanon.

IDesia’s BDS sensor is cheap enough, small enough, and durable enough to be added to anything from PC peripherals, such as keyboards, mouse devices, or USB storage disks; to mobile telephones, PDAs, or even credit cards, smart cards, and identity cards, says Levanon. Users will be able to securely access their health records, bank accounts, or security networks at ease.

The company’s goal is to sell the BDS chip sets to OEM customers manufacturing biometric enabled microelectronic products. The company’s first OEM agreement is with Aladdin, which is using the BDS sensor to develop a custom made biometric solution for Aladdin’s eToken, a USB authentication device. The first of these new devices is expected to hit the market in the middle of 2006.

IDesia, which employs just eight members of staff, is now negotiating with companies in the consumer electronics field. It is particularly interested in the communications and software markets. Handset operators have already started introducing mobile telephones with fingerprint sensors to the market.

“The whole trend in communications is towards paying for services and content, not time,” says Levanon. “Cellular operators are desperately hunting for new services they can offer to their subscribers.”

The company is also planning, however, to develop finished products, often with strategic partners. The company’s first ready-made product will be the BDS Smart Card, a biometric enabled card which will include ID documentation that can be used for e-commerce and credit card transactions.

Aside from the consumer electronics market, IDesia also plans to enter the lucrative field of homeland security, and now feels mature enough to start exploring the US market, which is the leading market in this industry. The company has approached the US government, and is talking with major contractors in the US and Canada with the aim of finding a strategic partner in this region.

Though the biometric market is still young, there are already many industry players vying for marketshare. Currently there are about 200 companies active in this field, though none of them, according to Levanon, have managed to capture more than 9% of the market share.

Levanon is not concerned that fingerprint sensors are already being introduced to certain consumer goods. “They educate the market for us and open it up,” asserts Levanon. “We can now approach manufacturers with a technology that is both cheaper and more convenient to use.”

IDesia is now looking for funding of $6m. to fund the next stages of development. The company is in negotiations with both Israeli and US venture capital companies, and is also in talks with a potential strategic partner. Levanon expects the round to be closed before the middle of this year. The company also hopes to close one or two new licensing agreements this year, probably in the field of homeland or IT security.

Levanon believes that IDesia will break into the market much faster than Power Paper, which had to create both its products and the market.

“It’s the right timing for IDesia’s technology,” he explains. “We have emerged with a breakthrough technology just as the market is taking off. In five years or so I believe that we will become a very large and significant company in the biometric industry. In future, biometric technology will be incorporated into everything we touch.”

About Nicky Blackburn

Editor and Israel Director, Nicky Blackburn has worked extensively as a journalist and editor both in Britain and Israel for a range of national and international publications including The Cambridge Evening News, London News, Travel Weekly, Israel High Tech Investor, and The Times of London. She was the Associate Editor at LINK Israel’s Business and Technology Magazine, and the High-Tech Correspondent for The Jerusalem Post.