Sometimes you don't know what you've been missing until it's in front of your eyes. A few years ago, EyeTicket approached the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in North Carolina with a pitch to test the company's iris recognition technology and improve the airport's security process.

At that time, the airport used a manual security process to identify individuals. When security is the issue, though, the manual process may not be the most reliable system, said Airport Director Jerry Orr. "At the checkpoint, it was a manual recognition system, and we had ID badges that had your picture on them," Orr said. "So a person would have to look at the ID badge, look at you and make that match."

So when EyeTicket talked to the Charlotte/Douglas airport about using EyePass, the airport was willing to listen. "EyeTicket [was] looking for a place to demonstrate their technology," Orr said. "We're always anxious to look at new things."

The Naked Eye

Iris recognition technology biometrically identifies individuals based on the unique patterns in their irises. Compared to other biometric identification techniques, such as fingerprinting and facial recognition, iris recognition is a more reliable way to identify an individual.

"There's an abundance of detail in the iris," said Stewart Mann, chairman and CEO of EyeTicket. "It provides a much more positive identification than any other human feature."

No two irises are alike, even between one individual's two eyes. Because they remain the same for life, it's the best way to confirm a person's identity, Mann said.

For $20,000, the company installed its new EP-4 iris recognition security portals at four airport gates.

"EP-4 is an automated turnstile arrangement. It's meant to be in unattended locations, meaning there's nothing but a gate there," Mann said. "It's positioned right at the security checkpoint going onto the concourses. So you effectively have a turnstile, camera and very sophisticated software. All of it is networked to a central server."

Airport employees must first be entered into the system via a simple enrollment process. The first step is the enrollment algorithm, which records information from the initial iris scan.

"It captures the detail of the iris," Mann said. "The software analyzes it and assigns a 512-byte binary code. We store it as an iris code and then associate it with whatever permissions the customer wants you to have."

In this case the airport furnished the company with specific permissions for specific employees. "[EyeTicket] maintains the database," Orr said. "We have control of who can do what. We tell [them] this person has this level of access and can go here, here or here."

The second algorithm, the recognition algorithm, functions when someone actually walks through the access point, which then scans the eye and recognizes the employee -- a process that takes only seconds.

"From then on, we generate a new, real-time iris code," said Mann. "It calls the server, the server identifies you, and then we say, 'Well, Catherine is here. Do we print a ticket? Do we charge her money? Do we open the gate? If we can open the gate, is she permitted to go in at this time? And can she go in at this gate?'"

Each time the system recognizes someone, the information is stored in its browser-based application software, which customers can monitor as much as they want.

"Administrators and the client can look at [the data from various] locations on the network," Mann said. "It's all component software, so we can provide certain functionalities for any customer based on need."

A Blind Eye

The system is currently enjoying a successful run at the airport, allowing employees to enter permissible locations separately from