Related Links

For further information, please contact:
Andrew McLaughlin
University Press Office
+44 (0)1225 386 883
+44 (0)7966 341 357

» submit an item · an event

Professor Monro capturing the iris image of Soumyadip Rakshit, one of the PhD students working on the project
Professor Monro capturing the iris image of Soumyadip Rakshit, one of the PhD students working on the project
Iris image
Iris image
The image is 'unwound' (click for larger)
The iris part of the image is 'unwound' (click for larger)...
...and then converted into a digital code
...and then converted into a digital code

Press Release - 15 November 2005

Tackling terrorism, theft and fraud through improved iris recognition technology

Security systems that help prevent fraud, theft, illegal immigration and terrorist attacks by using the coloured part of the eye to validate a person’s identity could become more accurate thanks to new computer algorithms developed at the University of Bath.

Engineers are currently road-testing their technology using a specially-constructed database containing thousands of iris images collected from students and colleagues at the University.

By making this database available to other research groups, the researchers hope to encourage more advances in iris recognition and overcome some of the restrictions caused by a generic patent (recently expired) which has limited innovation for the last two decades.

“Our new algorithm does the same job as the one used by almost all of the commercially available iris recognition systems, it just does it better,” said Professor Don Monro from the University’s Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering.

“The algorithm has been 100 per cent accurate in our initial trials and, even though we don’t have their exact implementation systems, it outperforms the industry standard by a long way.

“Accuracy is very important in iris recognition because as well as ensuring that the person in front of the technology is who they say they are, you also don’t want people turned away should the system makes a mistake; the so-called ‘insult factor’.

“We now need to give the algorithm a proper work out, which is why we are in the process of expanding our database by collecting 16,000 iris images from students and staff at the University.”

Professor Monro’s algorithm has just passed a major hurdle in the patenting process, with the official examination under the international Patent Co-Operation Treaty procedure establishing that their application is ‘free and clear’ of all other patents held in this area.

The research team are also involved in two separate trials being run by UK and USA government agencies which are assessing iris recognition and other ‘living passport’ technologies for future use.

Iris recognition is seen as the most accurate biometric recognition technology because scientists regard the pattern of the iris as offering even greater discrimination between people than their fingerprints.

No two irises are identical, not even between identical twins, or between left and right eyes.

Iris recognition works by using algorithms - computer procedures - to ‘unwrap’ a digital image of a person’s iris and create a unique encrypted ‘barcode’ that can be stored in a database.

When a person goes to enter a secure building, for example, a digital image of their iris can be taken, processed using the same algorithm and then compared with the barcode stored in a central database.

“There is a lot of interest in using the iris as an enhanced security measure in ID cards, airports and access to other high security areas, such as bank vaults, but the current lack of a competitive market has stifled innovation and has meant the technology is struggling to live up to its potential,” said Martin George from local company Smart Sensors Ltd who are sponsoring the project.

“A generic patent covering the use of the iris as a way of validating a person’s identity has hampered independent research and development in the field.

“Now the patent has lapsed, research teams around the world are looking at ways of improving the technology and building upon its obvious benefits.”

Professor Monro said: “One of the problems that we have faced in this area is the lack of a publicly-available database of iris images that we can test our software on.

“Most of the databases that are available are held by commercial interests, so it is difficult for independent researchers to make headway in this field.

“We are making the database available online so that researchers around the world can use it to develop their own products. So far, more than 30 research groups have applied to use it.”

The images are captured using a special camera and an infra-red light source which helps get over problems caused by shadows and competing light sources.

Hundreds of images can be captured in a few minutes, and the team select 20 from each eye from each volunteer. So far they have had 200 volunteers, and hope to attract another 200 in the coming months to build a database with 16,000 iris images.

The University of Bath is one of the UK's leading universities, with an international reputation for quality research and teaching. View a full list of the University's press releases: