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Bond gadgets: Fingerprint identification

Bond gadgets: Fingerprint identificationPolice use it these days as a matter of course, but why was it so revolutionary for Bond? And how have things improved since them?

What was it for?

The fingerprint identification device was used by one of the villains in Diamonds are Forever. Diamond smuggler Tiffany Case dusted Bond's prints from a glass he had drunk from, then ran them through the device.

Luckily for Bond, he had a gadget of his own – fake fingertips which he stuck on before the test was carried out.

Here's the science part

In 1971, when the film was released, this kind of technology was very sophisticated. Police used to rely on ink and paper fingerprints to catch criminals, and the system was far from perfect. It was extremely impractical to store all of the paper copies of criminal prints, not to mention difficult to search through to find a match.

Now, however, fingerprint recognition is far more advanced than even Tiffany Case's cumbersome print reader. They can be captured by optical imaging, which uses a very detailed digital camera. The prints are then uploaded onto a database.

Alternatively, ultrasonic sensors are used. Ultrasonic sensors send out very high frequencies of sound, which penetrate the top layer of skin. The reflected sound waves are then measured, giving a highly detailed image of the print.

Once the prints have been captured, they can be run through a computer to search for a match on the fingerprint database. Although computers find it difficult to recognise and match images, there are a number of complex algorithms which, when programmed into a computer, can help it to recognise the distinguishing points on each print.

Can I have one?

Sure, why not? You can buy plug-in fingerprint scanners to protect your home computer for around £80. They are not yet common household items, but with the price coming down and the desire for security going up, it may well be the case that, only 40 years after they were seen in the Bond movie, every home will have one.

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