Fingerprint sensing in the car: a security or convenience feature – or both?

April 29, 2016 // By Raja Bose, Synaptics
Fingerprint sensing in the car: a security or convenience feature – or both?
For more than five years, car manufacturers have looked to the smartphone to provide a model for the development of an increasingly sophisticated user experience, particularly for the driver. Cars have followed the smartphone’s lead by, for instance, providing a larger Centre Information Display (CID) screen offering higher resolution and fast, responsive capacitive touch sensing.

Now the automotive industry is looking to another feature of the smartphone’s user interface, the fingerprint sensor, to enhance and modernise the driver’s interface to functions in and even beyond the car. In fact this – and other forms of biometric authentication – appear to show great promise if implemented with sensitivity to user privacy and the limitations of the automotive operating environment. But the use cases of biometric authentication in the car look set to differ, perhaps surprisingly, from those of the smartphone.


Personalising the user experience

The obvious assumption about fingerprint sensing in the car is that it should be used as a convenient and secure replacement for the key both for providing access to the cabin and for starting the engine. In the smartphone, of course, fingerprint sensing performs this security function, barring access to any person other than the registered owner. In a car, however, fingerprint sensing is an unsatisfactory form of security in vehicles for two reasons.


The first is because of a difference in the usage model of a car from that of a smartphone. A car may be driven by people other than its registered owner. For instance, users of a valet parking service need to give the valet a means of starting the car. Equally, a driver who finds himself or herself incapacitated might want a suitably insured person to drive the vehicle on their behalf. A fingerprint sensor, then, can never entirely replace a key.


There is a security as well as a convenience reason why a fingerprint sensor cannot be the sole means of securing the car. This is because every fingerprint sensing technology in existence has a ‘false acceptance rate’. Occasionally, every fingerprint sensor will wrongly identify a stranger’s fingerprint as that of the registered user. Even the smallest risk that a potential car thief could steal this expensive asset simply by pressing a fingerprint sensor

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