Will our fingerprints be the key to accessing all our future possessions? Current fingerprint sensor technology allows for user authentication and can handle navigational gestures—a multifunctional facet of the digital age, but what’s next? Some companies are gearing toward in-screen, ultrasonic fingerprint sensors that can work through touch displays, and other solid objects. However, with progress comes engineering hurdles and tough competition.
The ECN Q&A below features Ian Campbell, CEO, OnScale, where we discuss the fingerprint sensor market, industry trends, design challenges, the current biometric arms race, and OnScale’s role within the field.
ECN: How are fingerprint sensors currently utilized in the electronics industry?
Campbell: Fingerprint sensors are used in everything from door knobs, to laptops, to smartphones—about 2 billion units are sold annually.
ECN: How will the role of fingerprint sensors evolve over time, especially concerning their design and future applications?
Campbell: In the near future, fingerprint sensors will become omnipresent and be used for everything from unlocking your front door to unlocking your car.
ECN: What obstacles are engineers facing that are impeding the progress of the fingerprint sensing market?
Campbell: Traditional fingerprint sensors (optical and capacitive) have been limited in the sorts of applications they can address. For example, they can’t be used in under-display (or under-surface) configurations, since they need to be positioned close to the finger to work, and they don’t work well in outdoor applications (i.e. wet, dusty environments). They are also prone to failing due to “smudges”—past fingerprint remnants from naturally occurring oils in the human finger.
Newer fingerprint technologies like ultrasonic fingerprint sensors will overcome these obstacles.
ECN: How can engineers overcome the challenges mentioned above?
Campbell: Engineers can overcome these obstacles by using advanced Cloud CAE to design and optimize next generation sensors and sensor technologies before spending tens of millions of dollars making physical prototypes. Using Cloud CAE, engineers can isolate and correct potential design flaws and ensure that their devices outperform the competition.
ECN: Please comment on the current biometrics arms race between mobile vendors.
Campbell: The race is being led by companies like Qualcomm and TDK-InvenSense, as well as fast-followers like Sonavation and FPC. The goal of the new biometrics arms race is to put ultrasonic fingerprint sensors under the displays of flagship smartphones like the next iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. There are tens of billions of dollars at stake in this market, so companies large and small are pouring money into R&D of these devices. Those competitors which rely on traditional means of physical prototyping, rather than virtual prototyping with Cloud CAE, will be left in the dust.
ECN: How can OnScale assist the design engineer within the fingerprint sensing, biometrics, and IoT fields?
Campbell: OnScale gives every engineer on-demand access to world-class multiphysics solvers running on an infinitely scalable Cloud HPC platform—a supercomputer for every engineer to solve their toughest engineering problems. By using the power of OnScale Cloud CAE, engineers can explore very large design spaces, hone in on optimum designs that beat the competition, and vastly reduce cost and time to market for new technology development.
About Ian Campbell, CEO, OnScale
Ian Campbell is a venture-backed Silicon Valley CEO and expert in MEMS and semiconductor technology. Prior to joining OnScale, Campbell served as founder and CEO of NextInput where he led the startup through multiple rounds of funding (totaling $12 million and an additional $4 million in research contracts with government and industry partners) and built a world class team of engineers and scientists who developed 3D Touch and ForceTouch technologies for smartphones, wearables, industrial, and automotive applications. He also secured the first major smartphone OEM design wins. Campbell earned his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Middle Tennessee State University, and his MSAE in Aerospace Engineering and MBA from Georgia Institute of Technology.