Many people are familiar with the sight-saving role ophthalmologists play in diagnosing and treating eye conditions, but few may be aware of the revolutionary contributions they make beyond medicine. One such innovation gained the spotlight this month when Leonard Flom, MD, and the late Aran Safir, MD (1926-2007), were inducted into the U.S Patent and Trademark Office's National Inventors Hall of Fame for their invention of the iris recognition scanner. The technology is now widely used in a number of high-security sectors, ranging from government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to private companies such as Google.
In the 26 years since it was awarded a patent in 1987, iris-recognition technology has earned a reputation as the most accurate biometric identifier, while providing advantages of speed and ease of use in comparison to alternatives such as fingerprinting. Drs. Flom and Safir's idea for their invention was based on a shared interest in computer technology and biomicroscopy – the microscopic examination of living tissue in the body. It works by matching a scanned image of a user's iris with a previously collected image in order to confirm an individual's identity. The iris of the eye is an ideal biometric identification measure because it contains more detailed information than any other part of the human body, and is unique for every individual, including identical twins.
"It has been extremely rewarding to see our invention's impact on global security systems over the past 26 years," said Dr. Flom, a retired ophthalmologist in Fairfield, Conn. "In the next five to 10 years, I expect that biometrics will be as familiar as smartphones, and iris identification will be commonplace in airports, workplaces and even health clubs. The applications are almost endless, and it's exciting to imagine what the future holds."
A table-top version of the iris recognition scanner, the LG IrisAccess EOU 3000, is featured in the permanent collection of the
Museum of Vision, an educational program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, which is dedicated to preserving ophthalmic heritage. The scanner will be featured in the Museum's upcoming exhibition, Extreme Vision: Science Fiction or Truth, at the
American Academy of Ophthalmology's 2013 Annual Meeting Nov. 16 to 19 in New Orleans.