JULIA HORTON HEALTH REPORTER
14 Jul 2003
A LOTHIAN firm has developed a futuristic iris scanner which will allow the public to pay bills in an instant.
Said to be the first of its kind in Europe, the machine represents the latest in cash-free payment systems.
It works by scanning the unique image of a persons iris to confirm their identity. The user looks into a camera for a few seconds while a video image is taken to be cross-referenced with a database.
Once their identity is confirmed, the system automatically deducts the appropriate payment from the persons bank account, doing away with the need to carry cash, cards or chequebooks.
Designers at CRB Solutions in Loanhead say it could easily be installed in council one-stop-shops to allow people to pay routine bills, such as council tax and bus passes, in seconds.
The firm also expects hospitals and businesses to install the scanners as a security measure at entrances to buildings and secure areas.
The iris scanner has already been set up in a school canteen in England, where staff hope it will reduce the stigma around children claiming free school meals.
David Swanston, systems director at CRB Solutions, believes it will not be long before the science fiction-style system becomes the norm across the UK. "Its like everything," he said. "It looks a bit like space age technology at first but eventually it will just be accepted as the norm.
"It has already been installed at a school in Sunderland to create a cashless, cardless system for school meals. And there are definitely other things which local authorities could use it for.
"For example, when you walk into a council one-stop-shop you could pay your council tax and your son or daughters school meals bill all at once using the scanner, without the need for cash, a card or a chequebook.
"It could also be used by hospitals or businesses in their canteens, and it could also be used for security so that only people whose irises have been scanned into a database are allowed into certain areas in a building."
The iris is said to be the most mathematically distinct feature of the human body, making it the most accurate means of identification.
While fingerprinting results in a three per cent inaccuracy rate, due to the effect of dirt and scars, the inaccuracy rate from the new system would be just 0.1 per cent.
The iris is also stable throughout a persons life, not changing from the age of one.
The iris scanner was launched last week at Sunderlands Venerable Bede School.
It is hoped that the cashless system will save less well-off students from embarrassment and reduce stigma and bullying surrounding free school meals.
The iris scanner follows on from CRBs cashless cards system - which was launched at St Margarets Academy in Livingston in 1995. Under that system, pupils use cards instead of cash to pay for school meals.
Councils in the Lothians are now keeping a close eye on the new iris scanner. East Lothian Council witnessed a demonstration of the scanner only last week. A spokeswoman said: "The council was given a demonstration of the iris scanner as part of a presentation by CRB Solutions about smart card technology.
"We are purchasing the cashless smart card system for our six secondary schools, and will eventually install it in our primary schools as well. We have no plans to purchase the iris scanner at present."
A spokeswoman for West Lothian Council said: "We dont have any plans to implement a system like this. We will, however, be watching with interest to see how it works out in other areas."
Edinburgh City Council said it was looking at a "number of options"
and had made no decision as yet.