WV BIOMETRICS: Fertile ground for innovation
By Kim Harbour
In the late 1990s, a program to map Earth’s terrain from space was
applied to charting the geography of the human fingerprint, with its
unique valleys and ridges. Thus, the biometrics field came to land in
the hills of north-central West Virginia.
Lockheed Martin had been involved in the Mountain State since the
1960s, in the field of aeronautical manufacturing. But its development
of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Integrated Automated
Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), in Clarksburg, W.Va.,
jumpstarted the company’s work in biometrics. Today, Lockheed Martin is
a world leader.
“IAFIS holds 500 million fingerprints. It is the world’s largest law
enforcement and criminal history system, making it possible to identify
criminals in just minutes,” explained Carlaine Blizzard, vice president
of secure enterprise solutions for Lockheed Martin Transportation and
“The work we did designing and deploying the IAFIS system in West
Virginia was the foundation for the work we’ve done with other
customers, including the Department of Homeland Security and the
Transportation Security Administration,” Blizzard said.
This May, Lockheed Martin opened the Biometric Experimentation and
Advanced Concepts (BEACON) Center in White Hall, W.Va., to serve as a
cooperative facility for biometrics research. The 6,000-squarefoot
facility is designed to be a gathering place, where local businesses
and academics can showcase their latest work and collaborate. BEACON
houses six high-tech computer pods. The front of the building has an
auditorium for the center’s regular lecture series.
“BEACON represents a true investment in West Virginia. It’s one thing
to come to the state and do work for the government. The work is here,”
explained John Dahlia of the Fairmont, W.Va., City Council and Global
Science & Technology Inc. “It’s quite another for Lockheed to
invest in the community – to create something like this incubator that
will be so critical to our infrastructure. Having BEACON here creates
an image. It shows the world that West Virginia is the real deal for
TAKING MEASURE: FOR SECURITY AND BUSINESS
Biometrics derives its meaning from Greek: “bios” and “metron” or “life
measure.” It is the study of the characteristics unique to each person,
such as fingerprints, eye iris, voice pattern, face recognition, DNA,
gesture, signature, odor and other physical or behavioral traits.
Biometrics can be used in any situation where positive identification
of a person is needed. Unlike ID badges and PIN numbers, it’s not just
something in your wallet or something you memorize. It’s something you
are; so, it can provide the ultimate security.
The biometrics industry focuses on developing methods and tools for
identity verification. The latest innovations are multi-model fusions,
combining the analysis of two or more biometrics (say, an iris and a
fingerprint) for greater certainty. Computer technology is used to
match the recorded patterns on file for an individual to validate
identity – often in real time at a point of authentication. Matches (or
mismatches) can be discovered and acted upon immediately.
Since 9/11, the homeland security applications for biometrics have made
the news: securing national borders, controlling access to facilities,
or enhancing computer network security. But the technology has the
potential to provide benefits to consumers and businesses by protecting
against identity theft, verifying time and attendance or speeding
pre-screened business travelers through airport security checkpoints.
“The use of biometrics already is expanding into financial services.
ATMs in India use fingerprints for validation. ‘Pay by touch’ may
replace credit cards, someday,” Michael Kirkpatrick said. He is the
executive director of the West Virginia Biometrics Initiative, also in
“When biometrics become commonplace in consumer products – that’s when
the industry will explode,” he said, predicting West Virginia will be
key in shaping that future.
Supporting the commercialization of biometrics will be the National
Biometrics Security Project (NBSP) and its Test Research & Data
Center in Morgantown, W.Va. The 8,000-square-foot facility is the
world’s only ISO-certified independent testing, training and data
facility focused exclusively on biometrics.
“Standards are what drive commercialization. Devices need to be
interoperable. They need to speak to one another,” explained John
Siedlarz, CEO and Chairman of NBSP. The company’s financial support of
standards development has contributed to the number of published
standards, growing from 13 to more than 50 in the past three years.
Additionally, there are another 50 standards in development.
NBSP’s Qualified Products List (QPL) identifies those biometric
products that have passed a series of performance tests over a six- to
eight-week period. “Buyers can be assured that the products that appear
on the QPL meet specific performance standards,” said Siedlarz.
FERTILE GROUND FOR HIGH-TECH BUSINESSES
No other geographic area of the world has north-central West Virginia’s
high concentration and high caliber of biometric companies. The I-79
Corridor is home to the FBI Center, BEACON, NBSP, the Department of
Defense’s Biometrics Fusion Center in Bridgeport, and West Virginia
University’s Center for Identification Technology Research (CITeR),
In 2000, WVU developed the first degree program in biometrics in the
United States and more than 50 students there currently major in
biometrics systems. Graduates are in high demand. Most earn dual
degrees, with a second degree in computer engineering, computer science
or electrical engineering.
WVU has two related programs that put its students and faculty into the
midst of applied research and application development for industry:
CITeR and the Biometric Knowledge Center, which serves as an economic
development arm for WVU Identification Technologies.
Since 2001, CITeR has been awarded funding by the National Science
Foundation to be the only Industry/University Cooperative Research
Center focusing on biometric identification technology in the United
States. It is a cooperative in which industry, government and academia
join together to research solutions on key projects.
CITeR research affiliates include industry giants such as Northrup
Grumman, Booz Allen Hamilton and Lockheed Martin and government
entities including the FBI, Department of Defense, Federal Aviation
Administration and the National Security Agency. CITeR affiliates
contribute a fee that gives them voting privileges to approve what
projects will be pursued by the researchers. In return, the affiliates
become directly involved in the research from planning to completion.
They get first looks at data and first opportunities to license ideas.
Industry and government groups mentor the students and faculty.
Students get professional experience and easily transition into
industry jobs upon graduation.
“In addition to the access to leading-edge research and a well-trained
work force, locating a biometrics business in West Virginia makes
business sense,” said Kirkpatrick. “West Virginia offers low business
costs, low cost of living, and high quality of life. Workers give you
an honest eight-hour day. There is low absenteeism and low turnover.
“The location is ideal, too. The I-79 Corridor is a mere three-hour
drive from Washington, D.C.,” he added. “The fact that we are close to
Washington, but not in it, has security advantages. This is a good
location for back-up and disaster recovery.”
Blizzard agreed about the state’s capacity and qualities.
“As a long-term partner that’s made a commitment to West Virginia,
we’ve seen the value of our investment,” she said. “The tremendous
convergence of talent, academia, small businesses and visionary
leadership has made West Virginia a fertile place for high tech