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August 15, 2011
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Tim Dees Police Tech & Gear
with Tim Dees

An affordable mobile fingerprint scanner

The Fulcrum Biometrics FbF mobileOne is an injection-molded sleeve/cradle that carries a scanner sensor, a 30-pin iPhone connector, and its own rechargeable power supply

One of the new toys I’ve seen popping up on the many CSI-type TV programs is a handheld fingerprint scanner. The tech holds the (usually dead) subject’s index finger onto the postage stamp-size platen of a pocket size scanner, and almost instantly the scanner’s display shows the finger owner’s name, date of birth, headshot photo, blood type, employer and political party affiliation. Yeah, right.

As it turns out, there are devices like that out there. While the information they return from a print scan is not quite as detailed, there is one that will run on your iPhone.

Biometrics describes the technologies to identify people from the credentials we always have with us: our faces, fingerprints, hand geometry, iris patterns, and so on. Although we don’t usually call the methodology of police identification “biometrics,” that is what we most commonly employ for determining unequivocally that a person is who we think they are. Names are little more than labels, removable or changeable at will. What doesn’t change without considerable time and effort, if at all, are height, weight, eye and hair color, gender, the arrangement and placement of eyes, nose, mouth and ears, and fingerprints. Fingerprints tend to be the gold standard because no two people, not even identical twins, have ever been found to have the same prints.

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Traditionally, fingerprint identification meant that the person, or at least their prints, had to be brought to the record section or a computer for comparison to those on record. This is not only time-consuming, but sometimes legally impossible if the person at hand doesn’t want to go. With the Fulcrum Biometrics mobileOne fingerprint scanner, officers can pull off that stunt from CSI and know immediately if the person they have in front of them is who they say they are.

Fulcrum Biometrics has been in the market for nine years. Their FbF mobileOne is an injection-molded sleeve/cradle that carries a scanner sensor, a 30-pin iPhone connector, and its own rechargeable power supply. The user installs the mobileOne app onto their iPhone or iPod Touch (the latter will work when connected via a Wi-Fi network), inserts the device into the sleeve, and is ready to start scanning prints. The sensor provides a 256-bit grayscale, 508 dpi image, which is transmitted wirelessly to AFIS. Although matching and identification can be delayed by the server, a reply with the match data, if found, is typically returned in a few seconds. The data packet transmitted is 100KB or less, which can be sent over any data-capable network in a few seconds. The best connectivity will be over a wi-fi network, but any data network from Edge to 4G is acceptable.

Cradles are available for the iPhone 3, 3GS and 4, and for the iPod Touch. The design of the FbF mobileOne allows the cradles to be swapped out by the user to accommodate different devices and future upgrades, such as the iPhone 5 which will be out in a few months. The independent power supply does not draw down the phone’s battery. The device will scan steadily for up to nine hours on a single charge, and can be recharged from any USB port.

The FbF mobileOne is priced at $599, with discounts for quantity purchases. This is a fraction of the cost of a dedicated mobile scanner. The cost savings is possible because only the hardware necessary to scan and encode the print for wireless transmission to the automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) server is contained in the device itself. The radio and computer portion of the scanner are contained in the iPhone or iPod Touch the user has already. $599 isn’t a trivial purchase, but the savings realized in being able to identify persons and even cite and release in the field instead of transporting them to the jail for booking could recover the cost quickly.

About the author

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer, and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in Northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia, and Oregon.

He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.

Tim has written more than 300 articles for nearly every national law enforcement publication in the United States, and is the author of The Truth About Cops, published by Hyperink Press. In 2005, Tim became the first editor-in-chief for Officer.com, moving to the same position for LawOfficer.com at the beginning of 2008. He now writes on applications of technology in law enforcement from his home in SE Washington state.

Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama, and the Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International. He serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association.

Dees can be reached at tim.dees@policeone.com.

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