I was asked to explain my Darwin Tweet in a different way

By Guido Bertocci, VP, Software Engineering

People understand $, so here we go. ASPs (average selling price) are approximate. I’ll use $5 for the ASP of our sensor and a silicon sensor to keep it simple. It’s close enough and as you will see, doesn’t make any difference.

Today a biometric card has 3 things, a secure element ($1.50) a sensor ($5) and “all the other stuff” ($8.50) = $15. “Other stuff” is an extra MCU, energy harvesting, and a fancy inlay with components. Due to 40nm technology, TrustedBio has evolved, swallowed most of “the other stuff” AND became less expensive. To give silicon sensors the most favorable benefit possible in this comparison, I’ll keep the ASP of TrustedBio at $5 even though we have reduced its cost. TrustedBio cards will have a secure element ($1.50), TrustedBio ($5.00) and “a little bit of stuff” ($0.50). Total ASP = $7.00

Our competition cannot evolve and absorb “the other stuff” because they are stuck in 130nm and because of their architecture. Even if they sell their sensor at $0, their card will still cost much more. SE ($1.50), Sensor ($0), Stuff ($8.50) = ASP $10. $10 is much more than $7 and that assumes they are giving their sensor away for free. I’ll repeat myself, there is no price at which a silicon sensor is competitive, even $0.

You may ask, surely they can evolve and do the same thing? However, they can’t because of the technology they use. In a silicon sensor, the sensor equals the ASIC. They are literally the same thing. You are touching the top surface of a chip. Make the sensor bigger the ASIC gets bigger. Make the sensor smaller the ASIC gets smaller. For silicon sensors to absorb “the other stuff”, it would make their ASIC bigger than the touch surface and in 130nm technology, much much bigger.

In IDEX sensors, off-chip sensing, the sensor does not equal the ASIC. They are entirely separate items. We make the sensor, the part you touch, out of a low-cost polymer. The sensor connects to a small, and with TrustedBio, very small ASIC. We can evolve the ASIC, add “stuff” AND make it smaller and cheaper by following traditional semiconductor process nodes.

An 8mm x 8mm silicon sensor is an ASIC of about 70 sq. mm, more than 700% bigger than TrustedBio which is connected to an even bigger 9.5mm x 9.5mm sensor.

You may think that off-chip is risky or unreliable, but it is not. In fact, it is extremely common and well understood technology. Do you have a cellphone with a touch screen? The touch screen, very big, connects to small ASIC. That is off-chip technology. Do you have an HDTV with a 55” screen? That is a giant screen with many connections that connect to a small ASIC. That is off-chip technology.

The reality is that off-chip technology is the predominant approach in the electronic industry. The odd ball is the silicon sensor. What IDEX has done is take a universally understood electronic architecture that separates the user interface, the part that humans touch or see, from the ASIC and made it work in a fingerprint capacitive sensor. That allows IDEX to continue to evolve, improve performance AND reduce cost.

By integrating “the other stuff” and controlling it with software, we are the perfect partner for secure element vendors. We can provide them with whatever functionality they need. We help them simplify and drastically cost reduce the entire card. This is why we have been selected as a partner by major sophisticated companies who understand these issues in great detail.

People think the goal is to just reduce the cost of the sensor. That is how the game was played in mobile. Cards are very different. IDEX has changed the game and reduced the cost of the entire card. You are watching natural selection in action.