Biometric authentication technologies have been around for a while now and, if truth be told, vary considerably from the useless Flash drive at the bottom of my drawer that has only ever recognized my fingerprint once, to something a bit more dependable. NEC has now developed an identification system that is able to register the ridges of a fingerprint and the finger vein characteristics without any sort of physical contact.

For the past few years, NEC has held the top spot in a number of fingerprint and face recognition evaluations undertaken by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The company also lays claim to the world's highest-level original recognition algorithm, so it's a safe bet that the company knows a thing or two about verifying someone's identity electronically.

Up until now, using a fingerprint to get into computers or storage devices has involved the sliding of, or the direct placement of, an appropriate digit across some sort of scanning mechanism. The results are compared with information in a database and, if you're lucky, you are allowed access to the system.

NEC's HS100-10 Contactless Hybrid Finger Scanner is said to enhance the functionality of an optical sensor to simultaneously acquire both fingerprint and finger vein information from the user without the need for physical contact. The company claims that the system is robust enough to accurately register finger characteristics even when faced with exceedingly dry or moist hands, which have been known to cause problems in contact-based systems.

The device sports a USB interface to cater for secure PC logon in both the stand-alone and Active Directory environments. It's already compatible with major access management software – such as IBM's Tivoli Access Manager for Enterprise Single Sign-On and Novell's SecureLogin – and NEC will be providing an Authentication Development Library so that the solution can be used with a broad range of business and personal applications in the future.

The HS100-10 will be available worldwide from May, but pricing at this point is not known.