At New UB Center, Scientists Will Tailor Unique Biometric Systems for Homeland Security, Public Health

New systems could detect chemical residues, mad cow disease and SARS

Release Date: November 11, 2003 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo has established the Center for Unified Biometrics and Sensors, (CUBS) a new, cross-disciplinary center that takes a unique approach to developing technologies in biometrics, the science of identifying individuals based on their physical, chemical or behavioral characteristics.

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, physical biometrics, such as an individual's height, weight, the shape of the iris in the eye, vein structure and hand geometry, have become increasingly important for security applications because they cannot be faked easily.

With $1.3 million in initial funding from the National Science Foundation, the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research (NYSTAR), the UB Office of the Vice President for Research and several companies, most of them located in Western New York, CUBS will bridge academia and industry, designing, developing and prototyping biometric devices for commercialization.

"The market for biometrics products is expected to explode from $900 million in 2002 to $4 billion by 2007 and with this center, UB will be well-positioned to influence it," said Jaylan S. Turkkan, Ph.D., UB vice president for research.

"What is unique about the UB Center for Unified Biometrics and Sensors is its ability to 'unify' information across different identification methods, whether it be for fraud-proof credit card purchases, finding lost children or identifying known terrorists," she said.

Russell W. Bessette, M.D., executive director of NYSTAR, said UB's new center "will play a major role in the commercialization of biometrics technology. As part of Governor George E. Pataki's efforts to foster economic growth through high technology research and development, we are confident that this research will lead to the creation of new jobs and new companies in Western New York."

Mark H. Karwan, Ph.D., dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said the center also positions UB to play a key role in growing homeland security efforts being funded at increasing levels by federal agencies.

"CUBS leverages a number of UB's strongest researchers with excellent reputations in their own fields to form a multidisciplinary team to address some of our country's most critical security needs," he said.

The goal of CUBS is to research and develop customized biometric systems for specific applications, such as homeland security and public health, based on nontraditional biometrics, such as chemical and biological markers, as well as traditional ones, like the shape of the iris and hand geometry.

Such a customized approach differs from the one now dominant in the field, where a single biometric technology is marketed for a range of different applications, explained CUBS director Venu Govindaraju, Ph.D., UB professor of computer science and engineering.

"For many applications, the more customized a biometrics system is, the more powerful and accurate it will be," he said.

According to CUBS scientists, the application should dictate the kinds of sensors needed, how they should be packaged, the level of "intelligence" they require and how much security is needed to transmit the information.

"What we are going after at CUBS are specialized applications where we get involved in developing both the sensor itself -- how the information is gathered -- and the informatics -- what is done with the data once it's in hand," explained Alexander Cartwright, Ph.D., associate professor of electrical engineering, a CUBS founding member and director of lasers and photonics at UB's Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics.

"We believe success in this area depends on being able to combine and 'tune' technologies to different applications by using contextual knowledge about how the data will be used," said Govindaraju. "The technology for these applications exists. Now it's a question of figuring out how to build the best devices."

Scientists at CUBS also will develop new methods for the acquisition of biometric data, as well as its processing and interpretation, efforts that usually are not explored together.

"Most biometric research has focused on the traditional identification methods, but collectively, the founding faculty members of CUBS have the right collection of expertise to exploit new and different biometric characteristics as well," noted Govindaraju.

Through the research of its founders, including Frank Bright, Ph.D., UB Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, and Albert Titus, Ph.D., assistant professor of electrical engineering, CUBS already is pioneering the exploration of new biometrics, such as chemical and biological sensors targeted to gather

data on individuals by detecting and quantifying the presence of various pharmaceuticals and their metabolites, toxins, blood type and even chemical residues on the skin.

Part of the rationale for these new areas is that, according to the center's founders, many of the biometrics systems that now are available do not perform as well as they should.

"Unfortunately, many of these systems have a very high false-positive rate, which is either of no use or could be detrimental and even dangerous," said Govindaraju. Specific applications of biometrics that will be developed at the UB center include development of:

* A fully integrated biometric platform that provides a common framework for acquiring through multiple miniaturized sensors widely differing biometrics, such as face, speech, fingerprints, gait, writing habits, and analyzing the data

* Small, low-power, portable chemical and biological detector systems

* Pathobiometric systems that can track automatically illnesses in livestock, such as mad cow disease, by analyzing aerial images of large cattle herds along with other farm data

* Methods that automatically can flag suspicious patterns among patients entering the emergency medical system in regions, providing clues to terrorist attacks or epidemics of new diseases, such as SARS

* A state-of-the-art automated fingerprint identification system

* Systems that use hand geometry as a biometric

* Biometrics systems modeled after the methods that animals use to understand their environments

The new center is partnering with local and national corporations and organizations, such as CUBRC (the Calspan-UB Research Center, Inc.), a strategic partnership that brings together scientists and engineers from academia and industry to foster technological and economic growth in Western New York. CUBS is working with CUBRC on several proposals to multiple government agencies in the area of biometrics. CUBRC also is funding the center's work on disease surveillance using automated reading of medical forms.

Other CUBS partners include Infinite Group, Inc. of Rochester, a systems integrator, mobileLexis of Salt Lake City, Utah, a digital paper solutions company, and Unified Data Systems for Medical Rehabilitation of Amherst, N.Y., which documents the severity of patient disabilities.

The new center's faculty, from UB's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, School of Informatics and the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, hold leadership positions in the university's most renowned cross-disciplinary research institutes, such as the Center of Excellence for Document Analysis and Recognition and the Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics.

Additional researchers at the center are Carl V. Granger, Ph.D., professor emeritus in the UB Department of Rehabilitation Medicine; John Hay, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and associate director of the UB Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics, and W. David Penniman, Ph.D., dean of the School of Informatics.

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