Touch Anywhere to Unlock your Smartphone

Ever since biometric locks started getting popular with smartphone users, the concept of number and pattern locks is slowly phasing out. Biometric locks, which include a range of identification methods including face recognition, retinal scan, IRIS and even posture recognition, are making an effort to plug loopholes that expose smart devices to hacker threats. But by… (Featured image source: http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com/Smartphone-Mobile-Phone-Finger-Share-Puzzle-Touch-1746553)

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Ever since biometric locks started getting popular with smartphone users, the concept of number and pattern locks is slowly phasing out. Biometric locks, which include a range of identification methods including face recognition, retinal scan, IRIS and even posture recognition, are making an effort to plug loopholes that expose smart devices to hacker threats. But by far, fingerprint recognition has been the most popular.

Companies like Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, Lenovo, LG Electronics and HTC are some of the key players to have launched products – primarily smartphones – with a fingerprint sensor to unlock the device. These sensors employed in mobile phones are optical scanners with capacitive sensors that can measure fingers electrically. The ridges in the fingerprint create a varying distance that is scanned to build a comparative picture with the one stored in the device.

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In the initial days when the concept of fingerprint authentication was put to practice, smartphone manufacturers embedded a fingerprint sensor either at the front or back of the device’s body. In June 2005, Fujitsu introduced in its patent application EP1545102A1 a concept of incorporating the scanner – a V-shaped groove in the operational area of the phone. However, this created a bulky structure and covered a large area, making it an unfeasible option.

To overcome this, smartphone makers such as Apple, Xiaomi, HTC and even Lenovo started researching to embed the scanner in a small circular area to reduce bulkiness and also make it user-friendly.

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Image sources: iPhone patent image from US9582102 & Fingerprint scanner in IPhone (https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors/10575759986)

Image sources: iPhone patent image from US9582102 & Fingerprint scanner in iPhone (https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors/10575759986)

Screen to scan your finger

Apple's patent US 9460332 describing a fingerprint scanning technology to unlock a smartphone.

Apple’s patent US 9460332 describing a fingerprint scanning technology to unlock a smartphone.

In the next step towards this technology’s development, companies are researching to include a fingerprint scanner on the display screen itself. This is expected to eliminate the issue of blurred images during scanning. A pioneer in this space is Apple.

Apple's patent application US 20170053151A1 for a fingerprint scanner technology.

Apple’s patent application US 20170053151A1 for a fingerprint scanner technology.

In its patent US 9460332, Apple describes a technology that can solve the problem of image blurring. The invention states the use of a display screen with an electrostatic lens which enables the fingerprint image to spread in a conical shape, and thus overcome the problem of blurred images.

Apple has filed another patent application US20170053151A1 titled “Acoustic Imaging System Architecture”. This is an in-display sensor and is made of a transducer, controller and image resolver. The sensor takes a fingerprint scan in the form of electrical signals, converts it into mechanical waves and vice versa to generate the image used for comparison by the controller and image resolver.

Apple also owns a granted patent US9582102 titled “Electronic device including finger biometric sensor carried by a touch display and related methods”. The patent describes an electronic device with a display layer with a transparent conducting layer thereon defining touch sensing pixels and a biometric sensor carried by touch display. A user can touch anywhere on the screen to authenticate the device.

Apple's patent US9582102 describing technology for device unlock authentication.

Apple’s patent US9582102 describing technology for device unlock authentication.

Avago Technology is another active participant in researching this space. It has a patent US8605960 B2 titled “Fingerprint sensing device” which, when implemented, can play a major role in technology that enables smartphones to be unlocked. The patent describes a method where a motion detector and fingerprint sensor work in tandem to identify the unlock pattern for the smartphone as the finger moves on the screen.

Avago Technology's patent US8605960 B2 describes a method where a motion detector and fingerprint sensor work in tandem to identify the unlock pattern.

Avago Technology’s patent US8605960 B2 describes a method where a motion detector and fingerprint sensor work in tandem to identify the unlock pattern.

Lg Display Company Limited also owns a patent application US20170024602A1 which describes a method to integrate a fingerprint sensor into a touchscreen device. The device comprises a plurality of touch screen areas and Tx Rx electrode lines crossing each other to scan the fingerprint.

Synaptics Incorporated is another patentee in this space with a granted patent US9336428B2 titled “Integrated fingerprint sensor and display”. It describes the use of fingerprint sensor lines on the display screen. Similarly, Goodix Technology Inc.’s patent publication US20160004899 describes a method of fingerprint authentication via the touch screen by providing a specific area of the screen for scanning.

These new methods for fingerprint authentication not only help improve screen space but also ensure aesthetic benefits to the product. Besides, it is more user-friendly and a better option to protect data integrity in the device. The gamut of companies showing keen R&D interest towards fingerprint scanner technology proves that they are not only focusing on devices specifications and quality, but also on security and privacy of devices.

Udit Gupta
Udit Gupta

Udit is an electronics professional and works as a patent engineer. He enjoys everything that technology has to offer and loves to explore new gadgets.


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