Japanese technology giant Fujitsu began developing palm-scanning technology in the mid-90s after researching several biometric – essentially body-measurement – techniques including iris and fingerprint scanning.
Fujitsu's palm scanners use near-infrared light to reveal the unique pattern of veins in a person's hand. Veins don't reflect near-infrared light – the same kind that TV remotes and some wireless keyboard use to communicate – and show up as a black pattern on a white hand. Each pattern is unique.
Fujitsu says its internal tests show the vein patterns are 300 times more complex than fingerprints. Even identical twins have different vein patterns,said Joel Hagberg,Fujitsu's vice president of marketing and business development.
Three Japanese banks,among several early adopters of the technology,installed palm scanners during 2004 to prevent fraud. During the last two years,U.S. hospitals in Florida,California and the Carolinas have installed palm scanners to link patients to their medical records – replacing drivers licenses and Social Security numbers as proof of identity.
Students taking the Graduate Management Admission Test will be required to scan their palms,as a fraud-prevention measure,beginning in March. The palm scanners will replace fingerprint readers in 425 test centers worldwide,said Dave Wilson,president and chief executive officer of the graduate admission council,which organizes the test.
Fujitsu found many people were uncomfortable with iris scanning and feared finger-scanning pads could spread germs. Holding a hand over a palm scanner is more hygienic and less intrusive,Hagberg said.
The U.S. government uses palm scanners to control access to areas where agencies destroy classified computer data. Fujitsu hopes to market computer mice with built-in palm scanners that would provide better security for online banking.
The Baycare Health System,a chain of nine hospitals and 11 outpatient centers in Florida,began installing palm scanners in mid-July. Baycare links each patient's palm to his or her medical information,which hospital officials say will eliminate duplicate records and help doctors identify confused or unconscious patients.
About 27,000 patients have scanned their palms into the system,and Baycare adds more than 1,000 people each day,said Jim Schwamb,Baycare's vice president for patient financial services.
“Our goal is to be at a million enrollments at the end of two years,” Schwamb said. He declined to say how much Baycare spent to buy and install its 350 palm scanners,but Schwamb said the technology would cost an average hospital chain about $1 million.
That figure comes from HT Systems,a Tampa-based company that sells palm-scanning equipment and medical software. HT Systems has sold palm scanners to hospitals in California,Florida and the Carolinas,said David Wiener,the company's vice president of sales.
Though purchase and installation costs can vary widely,depending on the complexity of existing computer systems,Wiener said an average hospital could be outfitted with palm scanners in 60 days for $100,000.
The Carolinas HealthCare System,a network of 23 hospitals,began using palm-scanners in May 2007. It plans to finish installing scanners at the end of this year,and so far has scanned 212,000 patients into its system.