The amount of effort that Samsung is putting into building a homegrown iris scanner leaves little room for guesswork about the authentication mechanism in its next generation of mobile devices. The rapid progress on the project has been chronicled in its sprawling paper trail of patent applications, which passed a new milestone on Thursday with the release of a filing that offers the first glimpse of the finished product.
The Galaxy S7 scanner departs from current alternatives and includes not one but two biometric cameras each packing its own dedicated illumination source that are capable of being used interchangeability. The onboard login software will scan your face when you try to login and activate the most suitable of the two: The near-infrared sensor if you have dark eyes or its visible wavelength counterpart for light eyes.
That will enable the Galaxy S7 to capture iris images with a consistently high level of detail that single-wavelength scanners simply can’t match across both ends of the retinal color spectrum due to the variations in how differently pigmented eyes absorb light. This translates into a lot more patterns for a hacker to try and copy, which should give Samsung a major advantage over the competition should the patent receive approval.
Without the ability to implement a similar dual-camera arrangement in its future iris scanners, the only way Apple could hope to contest its South Korean rival on physical security is by consolidating the functionality of the setup into a single sensor. The problem is that research on converged, or superspectral, imaging has barely even started, meaning that the technology won’t be available in the necessary size and price points anytime soon.
Samsung hopes to widen that lead even further with a piece of software that the patent filing specifies
will determine the lightning conditions in which you’re trying to use your phone and adjust the illumination source of the selected camera for optimal brightness. The scanner will then wait until you properly open your eye before taking the shot, programmatically filtering out your eyelashes and anything else that might stand in the way to ensure a complete view of the iris.
In addition to improving the quality of the image and thus the reliability of the authentication mechanism, the technology also holds the potential to make the login process a lot smoother than it might otherwise be. Galaxy S7 users won’t have to strain their eyes to obtain a good shoot or retry a scan multiples times to get past the lock screen.