Children attending schools in places like Rome, Georgia can now buy their school lunches with their fingertips, thanks to a new biometric scanning technology developed by Israeli company, BioGuard Components and Technologies.

Under the scheme introduced in September, schoolchildren attending elementary, middle and high schools in the US city, use their fingerprints to access their accounts and pay for their lunchtime meal.

In the past, students had to punch in pin numbers, but city administrators say the new system speeds lunch lines and save children the hassle of trying to remember numbers.
School lunches are not the only application for BioGuard’s technology. In fact, the 24-employee company based in offices in Rosh Ha’ayin, has developed a whole string of interesting products around its core biometric fingerprinting technology, from access control units for facilities, buildings and rooms, to computer protection systems that prevent data theft and information misuse, anti-carjacking devices, tracking and monitoring systems for fleet management, auto-payment solutions for cafes and retail outlets, and even time and attendance systems for schools and workplaces.

The company’s customers include the New York Diamond Exchange, the Prime Minister’s Office in Israel, border control authorities in Romania, Israel and Sri-Lanka, banks in Israel, schools in the UK and Singapore, retail outlets in Belgium, and fleet management operators throughout the US and Europe.

At the heart of BioGuard’s products lies its TruePrint fingerprint technology, which can identify a fingerprint from a library of up to 6,000 templates in under two seconds. The technology needs live tissue and a pulse to work, so unlike other technologies which rely on optical sensors or infrared camera, you cannot fool it with copies of fingerprints, a latex finger, or worse – a lopped off digit.

The technology can be used either in stand-alone units or incorporated into a network.

The beauty of a system like this is that you do not need to remember pin codes, take a key, or have a proximity card which can often be misused; instead you just use your fingertip. The system can be used to replace passwords on a computer, adding greater security since passwords are often passed around between employees. “This is 100 percent verification. You can be sure the only person who gains access is the person who is authorized to do so,” Ofer Gol, the CEO of BioGuard told ISRAEL21c. “That’s very important.”

The system is also designed to be user friendly. The fingerprint can be rotated 360 degrees, which means that unlike many biometric solutions, you do not have to place your fingertip at a specific angle.

BioGuard was founded in 2001. It was a combination of two Israeli companies both specializing in developing fingerprint technologies for different sectors – secure documentation and car security. “At that time fingerprint technology was just beginning and there were very few companies in the world involved in this field. It was a complete revolution to think about it – a James Bond idea. It made sense for the companies to join forces and look for new opportunities together,” explains Gol, who joined BioGuard this summer taking over from former CEO Yuval Rasin.

It was a wise decision. “Today our technology is far ahead of our rivals because of this,” says Gol.

For the first few years BioGuard was privately financed by the founders, but in 2004, angel investors injected $3 million capital into the company. Today the company is profitable. By the end of 2006, the company expects to have sales of $1 million, and by the end of 2007 anything between $4-7 million.

One of the company’s first products on the market was its anti carjacking device. Carjacking – where someone hijacks your car as you stop on the street – is a growing problem in the Western world as sophisticated car alarms make stealing parked cars harder for thieves than ever. The theft is often accompanied by violence and there are a growing number of cases where the car owner is shot and wounded or even killed. In the US there are about 17,000 carjackings a year.

CarGuard is an access and control unit that uses BioGuard’s biometric technology to positively identify the driver with a small fingerprint reader next to the wheel. If a driver fails to identify himself, then after two to five minutes – enough time for the hijacker to drive off leaving the car owner safely behind – the unit will gradually reduce the speed of the car to 15 kilometers an hour. At the same time, the car’s alarm system will kick in, drawing attention to the stolen vehicle. The unit has sold well throughout Europe, particularly in Belgium and Benelux, where it is law for luxury car owners to install such a system.
The technology can also be used remotely for fleet control. In the wake of 9/11 many feared that lorries and trucks carrying hazardous materials could be hijacked by terrorists and turned into lethal weapons. CarGuard prevents this from happening. The device, which is managed from a central control room, also enables a company to identify when drivers are breaking the speed limit, or if a long-distance driver has exceeded his driving hours. “We don’t shut down the engine,” says Gol. “But we can stop or reduce the speed of the vehicle to a very slow rate.”

Another interesting application is BioSchool, which is designed to prevent truancy, control entry to certain areas, such as the science and computer labs, or the washrooms, and to identify parents arriving to collect children from school. Each child is fingerprinted as they come to class. If a child does not show up, an SMS is sent out to the parents informing them that the child has not arrived.

“Children are not afraid from head teachers any more, but they are afraid from parents,” says Gol. “Once a parent knows a child is not at school they can find out why and push them to go.”

The system has already been introduced to schools in Singapore and also the UK where parents can be fined or even jailed if their children repeatedly skip school.

BioGuard is also moving into healthcare with BioHospital, a biometric solution that allows medical facilities to positively identify patients before medical treatment, upgrade administrative efficiency, reduce costs and improve customer service.

“You’d be surprised how dangerous it is to be in hospital,” says Gol, citing figures that show that 2,000 patients in the US die every year after receiving the wrong treatment.

“Many patients are treated for the wrong thing. Perhaps the nurse gives drugs to the wrong person, or a doctor goes to the wrong room or the wrong bed. Our system allows the hospital to verify the identity of the client with a fingertip before it carries out any kind of action.”

The company is about to start a proof of concept pilot scheme with a large European health authority. Health authorities worldwide lose millions of dollars a year because of fraud. Patients borrow medical cards from friends or family members so they do not have to pay health insurance.

Under the new scheme, each patient will be identified by their fingerprint. Aside from reducing fraud, this will also streamline and improve operations. With a fingerprint, doctors will receive the complete health records of the patients, including allergies to certain drugs, enabling them to provide the best possible treatment, even if the patient arrives at the hospital unconscious. “Using a fingerprint will save many lives,” asserts Gol.

The pilot is expected to be complete by the end of the year and Gol hopes that a contract will follow soon after.

The company is also awaiting final approval on a large multi-million dollar 10-year contract with India, to use fingerprint technology to enable air travelers to identify their luggage.

“This is all very promising and it’s giving us a good feeling that we are on the right track,” says Gol.

While there are many companies involved in the biometric field, one of the key advantages to BioGuard’s technology is that it allows for privacy. This is not big brother.

“In Europe people are very worried about their privacy. They don’t want to give away their identity with a fingerprint or an eye scan,” says Gol. “Our uniqueness is that we do not store a picture of the fingerprint in the memory of the device, but rather a mathematical formula of the fingerprint. It’s 100 percent secure. No-one can take these fingerprints and send them to Interpol or the police, and they cannot be used for criminal investigations.”

BioGuard is now considering a public offering on AIM in London. Originally an offering was scheduled for October-November this year, but it has now been delayed until next year because of Gol’s appointment and because of the two large new projects.

“Even if just one of these projects actually happens then our value will leap,” says Gol. He adds that he also has some new ideas and visions that he would like to implement and that it will take time to decide which financial path to follow.

Gol believes that 2006 is the year that fingerprint technology will finally come into its own.

He holds up his bunch of keys. “This is my biggest enemy,” he says, shaking it in the air. “If I can replace all of these with a fingerprint my life will be much, much easier. This is our problem in life, we have a key for the house, one for the office, another for the car. We also have to identify ourselves maybe 10 times a day if we want to carry out a transaction in the bank, or to enter the computer. Now we can do away with all of that and have just one fingerprint that will do everything. That’s the future.”