What is Iris Recognition Technology?

J. Dellaporta

Iris recognition technology is used to identify individuals by photographing the iris of their eye. It falls under a category of technology known as biometric-based authentication, also called biometric security. This technology has become popular in security applications because of its ease of use, accuracy, and safety. Its most common use is controlling access to high-security areas.

Anatomy of the human eye.
Anatomy of the human eye.

The technology works by combining computer vision, pattern recognition, and optics. First, a black-and-white video camera zooms in on the iris and records a sharp image of it. The iris is lit by a low-level light to aid the camera in focusing. A frame from this video is then digitized into a 512 byte file and stored on a computer database.

Iris recognition technology could be used to replace other forms of access-based identification, such as passwords.
Iris recognition technology could be used to replace other forms of access-based identification, such as passwords.

This image can be recorded from as far as 16 inches (40.64 cm) away, so no physical contact is necessary. An individual's identity can then be confirmed by taking another picture of his iris and comparing it to the database, so the technology can confirm a person's identity within a few seconds.

Iris recognition technology takes advantage of the fact that no two irises are alike.
Iris recognition technology takes advantage of the fact that no two irises are alike.

Glasses or contact lenses do not interfere with the operation of iris recognition technology. Very few surgical procedures involve altering the iris, in which case, re-enrollment in the database would be necessary. Blind people, as long as they have an iris present to scan, can likewise be identified in this way.

Iris recognition offers the highest accuracy in identifying individuals of any method available. This is because no two irises are alike — not between identical twins, or even between the left and right eye of the same person. Irises are also stable; unlike other identifying characteristics that can change with age, the pattern of a person's iris is fully formed by ten months of age and remains the same for the duration of his lifetime. This technology is also accurate because it uses more than 240 points of reference in an iris pattern as a basis for a match. By comparison, fingerprints use about 60.

The technology is currently used at physical access points demanding high security, such as airports, government buildings, and research laboratories. Some hotels have even experimented with using it in place of a room key. There is the potential for it to replace most current forms of physical access-based identification, including anything requiring a password, personal identification number (PIN), or key, such as electronic transactions, building access, or an automobile ignition. Unlike those physical methods of identification, an iris cannot be stolen, lost, or forgotten, so the technology addresses the problems of both password management and fraud.

Wearing contact lenses will not interfere with iris recognition technology.
Wearing contact lenses will not interfere with iris recognition technology.

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Discussion Comments


It is true that the cost of iris recognition capturing device was expensive and not very convenient for end-users in the past decades. However, things have changed dramatically, to the point that the iris is now surpassing fingerprints in terms of accuracy, speed and cost-effectiveness. Undeniably, it would be so much better if we can come up with a multimodal device that enables a more powerful security level.


Iris recognition is the very best way to secure ourselves.


While there is a big push toward the use of iris recognition cameras and away from biometric fingerprint devices I think that security professionals also have to take into consideration what the costs of actually implementing and maintaining these systems can mean.

Besides the grossly overpriced equipment that must be installed for a successful iris recognition system, there is also a labor cost incurred when employers then must develop and maintain the computer databases of secure access individuals. This means a whole new means of creating and organizing the data that must be entered into the security system.

Every employee that has access to a restricted area will need to have their iris scanned and identified by the security system. Luckily the development cost is the highest part and as the author mentions, very few procedures will actually alter the iris beyond recognition by the computer software.


For years, the security firm that I work for has used fingerprint recognition as a means of protecting our facilities and valuables. Unfortunately last fall there was a very organized and highly-trained group of thieves that defeated our fingerprint technology. This break in resulted in a complete upheaval of how we deal with security and the security of our clients.

The irony in this that we as a security company had our own premises compromised and the public embarrassment and residual effect on our clients was very damaging. Because of this we spared no expense for the latest and greatest in security technology. Henceforth we later had the most advanced types of iris recognition technology installed into our systems.

We haven't had any problems since but I am with one of the other people to comment, it is only a matter of time before a group of individual creates the technology to overcome iris recognition technology.


As the main security officer and coordinator for a large commercial building, we have been through several generations of lock technology including the use of specialized keys, magnetic stripe cards, radio frequency identification tags, fingerprint scanners and now finally we have implemented the use of the markets latest in biometric device security.

These lock mechanisms focus on retinal recognition instead of other archaic forms of biometric security. Iris scanners are not overly complicated systems to install but the cost of such an undertaking can be quite daunting and only the most secure of locations can really justify it adding to the overall budget.


I had no idea just how secure iris recognition technology was. It was always my understanding that fingerprint scanners were the best that the security industry had to offer for people and businesses interested in a higher form of lock besides just using a key or pass code.

Just like all things computer related though I am sure that iris recognition software will eventually be hacked or at least cracked so that intruders with the proper skills or information will be able to gain access to whatever it is that the locks and security is protecting.


When was iris recognition technology invented?

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