Apple makes the Touch ID sensor released last year with the iPhone 5s sound truly amazing. To squeeze the fingerprint reader into the “home” button on the iPhone, Apple had to make the sensor 170 microns thick—or a skosh more than a human hair. The button is then made out of sapphire crystal, “one of the clearest, hardest materials available,” according to Apple’s website. And there’s some more capacitive touch magic, subepidermal photography, and data analysis jobs to determine whether your fingerprint is of the arch, loop, or whorl variety. It’s a dazzling technological achievement, no matter what people with nipples claim.
Now a small startup based in Huntsville, Ala., thinks it can replicate the wonders of the Touch ID sensor with a much simpler approach. IDair’s technology uses the existing cameras on smartphones, coupled with its own software, to take pictures of users’ fingers and pull their fingerprints from these files. The process relies on an algorithm the company has patented, which turns the image into a useful means of identification. “We convert the low-contrast image into an FBI-quality fingerprint in a second or less,” says Jim Cantrell, chief executive officer of IDair.