Why is IDEX the right solution for biometric payment cards?

By Guido Bertocci, VP, Software Engineering

“You made claims about the benefits of off-chip sensing, particularly lower cost and yet no mobile business materialized.” Absolutely fair criticism. An honest assessment will show that we were late, our technology was not quite ready and there was inadequate price differentiation. By the time our 1st generation sensor was sampling, silicon sensors were already well established in mobile. Like many 1st generation products, we had much to learn.

What is different this time? Three numbers 130, 65, 40. Our 1st generation, IDX 3400, was designed in 130 nm technology, same as silicon sensors. Power was too high for contactless operation, about 3x higher than silicon sensors, image scan speed was slower. However, IDX 3400 allowed us to conduct trials with customers. We gained invaluable insight into technical and usability issues as well as insight into the payment card ecosystem.

Gen 2, IDX 3200/3205, is in 65 nm. Scan power was cut in third, matching silicon sensors and enabling contactless operation. Processing power, MIPs, more than doubled, image scan time cut 50%, memory quadrupled, and the cost reduced. IDX 320x provided a platform to research and refine our image acquisition, image processing, biometrics processing, security, encryption, and power management algorithms. We worked closely with our partners at every level of the payment card ecosystem to understand manufacturing. The result is that IDX 320x has passed multiple certifications and is now ramping into production with several partners.

Gen 3, TrustedBio, is in 40nm, another quantum leap forward. Scan power cut 50% again and is now substantially less than silicon sensors. Scan time cut more than 50% and is now faster than silicon sensors. MIPs and memory more than doubled again. Energy harvesting, power management and more powerful hardware encryption added, and these are only some of the new capabilities. The punch line is that TrustedBio is 25% smaller than IDX 320x, less expensive and much more capable.

What has the roadmap been with silicon sensors over the past 5-6 years? They are still at 130 nm. The mobile silicon sensor market is mature and extremely competitive with very high volumes. If moving to a smaller process node would reduce cost, it would have already happened. I should note there have been cost reductions in silicon sensors. Silicon sensor cost reductions were achieved by going from selling packaged sensors to wafers, while reducing sensor size and mask layers and reducing margin. Several of these reductions cannot be applied in cards.

Why is IDEX the right solution for biometric payment cards? Because the total system cost reduction for a card using TrustedBio is so high that one could give away a silicon sensor for free and the TrustedBio solution would still be much less expensive. The challenge is not to simply reduce the cost of a sensor, but to reduce the cost of the entire biometric card system, all the components and manufacturing. That is what TrustedBio accomplishes and cannot be done with silicon sensors. And this is why experienced companies are selecting IDEX as a partner.

We believe the key to success is providing our partners with the flexibility to design a low-cost payment card that fits their needs. They can leverage the full capabilities of TrustedBio including executing all biometric algorithms and power management or use it as a basic image capture engine or anything in between.

Off-chip sensing is difficult. However, once the challenges are overcome, the benefits are clear, and create a significant barrier for others to replicate.