VKANSEE – High-Resolution Fingerprint Sensors
The idea of biometric identification replacing passwords as the standard method of identifying users has moved from a future technology in movies to common usage in our daily lives. Once Apple introduced fingerprint sensing in the iPhone 5S, biometric sensing entered the mainstream and is now utilized daily by millions of mobile device users.
Jason Chaikin, the President of VKANSEE, discusses how his company is producing small fingerprint sensors that can reduce the risk of fingerprint fraud since they have four times the resolution of existing sensing technologies. His vision is that these devices will not only replace current technologies in mobile devices and access control systems, but that they will also enable scenarios that we have not even thought about yet.
Please tell me a little bit about yourself and your background.
When I was 14, I snuck away from home to catch the Synchronicity Tour from The Police in JFK stadium in Philadelphia. My scheme was discovered and I was grounded for the rest of the summer. During that time, we had a new TI-99 computer at home. With nothing else to do I, opened the manual, put it together, and found that I could program games in Basic, storing my work on a cassette tape. That interest in technology grew over the years. Once in college, I realized that I enjoyed my computer classes and that I could easily ace them. This led me down the path to where I am now, working in technology and biometrics. It turns out that if you like what you do, you don’t mind spending a lot of time on it and developing your skills.
Before discussing your product, please tell me a little bit about the company history. Is there any meaning to the name VKANSEE?
Vkansee is a Chinese company founded by Dr. Lucas Wang. Lucas is an expert in mathematics, optics and machine vision. In addition to being a top-level technologist, Lucas has an artistic manner. He derived the name Vkansee from the idea that “We Can See” – so we can understand. That is the company motto. VKANSEE is a play on words because when coding, in the comments, sometimes it’s cool to replace W and V and our core capability is the optical design and image processing so the name VKANSEE is not only unique, but apropos.
You currently have a product that you claim is “the world’s thinnest optical fingerprint sensor.” Please tell me about it. What are its key features?
In 2015 when we announced our product, optical sensors were quite large and used for border crossings and ID programs. Since then, other companies, even large public ones, have followed our direction of miniaturizing optical sensing for greater design possibilities.
Optical sensing is unique in how it can be integrated into the device – not only under the glass, but even directly into the display panel itself. In addition, using our patented method of applying pinhole imaging, Vkansee can obtain very high resolution that is useful for Fake Finger Detection.
One of the things that your site mentions is fingerprint “spoofing.” How does someone spoof a fingerprint? How do you protect against it?
Making a spoof, or fake fingerprint, is simple. Making it work on current capacitive sensors – what you find in most mobile devices on the market – is a little difficult, but YouTube has a number of videos showing how to do it. There are several ways sensor companies can resist these kinds of hacks, but today’s capacitive type sensors are no more than 500 pixels per inch (PPI), so they are limited. Vkansee’s high-resolution sensor has a resolution of 2000 PPI. This allows examination of small details not seen at 50 PPI and together with other proprietary elements we use, makes it much harder to penetrate our sensors with a fake fingerprint.
Your current product is an add-on for smartphones. Have you considered using the same technology for stand-alone biometric identity devices?
There is an existing market for biometric physical access control, especially in the enterprise space. The same is true for logical access control, meaning login to digital access. I believe that our sensor, which works under 2mm or more of cover glass or clear plastic, will open new markets. Similar to how the micro-hard drive opened the way for the iPod to store 1000 songs in your pocket, our sensor and will open the way to many useful products previously not considered.
How do you define your market? Who is your specific target audience within that market?
The biggest market is smartphones with almost a billion fingerprint sensors sold in 2016. However, laptops computers and tablets, as well as traditional access control systems, are all directly addressable. I am also excited about our sensor invigorating some traditional markets, such as automotive, because our sensor can operate under thick glass, acrylic, and other materials.
What methods do you normally use to attract and engage with new customers?
We are fortunate that biometrics has moved into the mainstream thanks to Apple pioneering fingerprint sensing in the iPhone 5S, so there is strong interest from many areas. We participate in trade shows, perform traditional marketing, and do proactive outreach. I am a firm believer in actions being louder than words, so we like to engage with the technology by getting it into a prospective customer’s hands. They can then test it, form their own opinions, and give us their feedback so we can learn from their experience.
How would you describe the typical customer that you currently have?
After three years of refinement, we are now moving into Mass Production (MP) with our first product, called the VK2108 this summer. This model is a standalone sensor that mounts under a screen or thick cover material, and captures high-resolution fingerprints. I will be able to point to our first customers soon, but not just yet.
Whom do you see as your main competitors?
It is a large market for consumer electronics and, with exception of one technology used in laptops, there are only handful of companies making capacitive sensors that dominate the market. Capacitive technology is a good approach, but it is more than 15 years old and has reached its limit. It cannot operate under even a thin cover glass without losing image quality and resolution. It also cannot easily go beyond 500 PPI, which could compromise security. Other technologies, like ultra-sonic, are great in principle, but for years we have not seen the actions behind the words. Today, we still do not see any ultra-sonic sensors in the consumer space. We think that the next generation of sensors will be optical and our method of using pinhole imaging is superior to all others. We will compete primarily with the capacitive sensor companies, especially in the consumer electronics space.
How do you see the biometric security devices technology and market evolving in the next few years?
I think it will continue to grow and reach into new areas. Now that the biometric market is considered mainstream, there is a great incentive for innovation and improvement and the technology is becoming more accurate and easier to use
What are your future plans for VKANSEE?
We are looking forward to applying our pinhole optical technology across a variety of sectors. In addition to the consumer electronics market, I am particularly excited to invigorate existing markets by adding Identity capabilities.
How many employees do you have today? Where are they located?
We are a small company with about 30 employees in China and the USA.
What can you tell me about technology startups in China? Is it a vibrant community or is it still in its infancy?
China is booming! The stock market for high tech companies is very attractive. There are many excellent and hard-working engineering, commercial, and product people who are hungry to make a difference – the entrepreneur spirit is everywhere. It reminds me of the early days when the IT industry was on fire. These days, PC and peripherals are blasé, but mobile, AI, and Fintech are a few examples of amazing growth in China. In addition, the VC community in China is not as nepotistic as in the U.S. and EU, and because its capital allows companies to endure the R&D period, it means a wider range of ideas get a chance to come to market.
For example, mobile payments in China are way ahead of the rest of the world. I can buy fruit from a farmer’s market, pay my taxi, and make large purchases just by scanning a 3D bar code to transfer the money from my bank account to the seller’s account. It is very quick and there is no fumbling for cash or the back and forth of credit cards. I also have a record of all my receipts so I can track where my money is going. Once I started using it, I never want to go back. China is really using the network of mobile phones in innovative ways.
Another example is bike sharing, such as the Ofo company. It is essentially a combination of Citibike and Uber. Once you set up an account, you have access to an unlocked bike from one of the countless bikes available in several Chinese cities. You just scan the bar code of an available Ofo bike and you are charged a nominal fee. When you are done, you simply lock the bike wherever you are and scan its bar code to end your transaction.
What are your top three tips for companies based outside of the US that are trying to break into the US market?
- It is critical for foreign companies to have a trusted US team to bridge the cultural gap. This is the same as it is for US companies entering China or other overseas markets.
- Companies must prioritize marketing. In China, for example, direct relationships have more weight than in the US. Investing in the right kind of marketing, based on cultural norms, to reach the target customer is important. This goes back to having a US team that is familiar with the landscape to strike the right balance.
- Companies must have a willingness to understand the local market and modify or localize their products and service offerings. For example, Japanese companies make many superior products, but they often have complicated menu systems and documentation, which are intuitive in Japan but can frustrate many American buyers.
How do you see the world of startups changing in the next few years?
Startups need capital and capital needs to increase value to their limited partners and investors. I think innovation will continue and that there is a chance for some of the unique offerings in China – as well as other parts of Asia and Southeast Asia – to gain popularity in the West.
How many hours a day do you normally work? What do you like to do when you are not working?
Anyone with startup experience knows you are always “on.” If a 40-hour workweek is important, then a startup is not the place for you. The good news is that with mobile phones you do not need to be tethered to a desk to be productive. The bad news is that even when taking a holiday or traveling to other time zones, you cannot “check out.”
I am a firm believer in people being together in the same space. One of my mottos is “We are smarter together” and most often, breakout ideas and solutions to problems comes from face-to-face time. I do not count the hours that I work, because I like what I do. I like the excitement of overcoming challenges with a team and the comradery of forging uncharted waters. Not to mention that when you get it right, the financial rewards are great.
Regarding my time off, I enjoy reading, outdoor activities and movies. I am a family man, so it is best when my college-aged kids are around. Even if were going in different directions, I enjoy the hustle and bustle, meeting up, and joking around.