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#Reception

Goodbye Card Scans, Hello Vein Scans

Article March 9, 2019  |  Text by Lukáš Rozmajzl Text by Lukáš Rozmajzl

Forget about those old-school plastic workplace entry cards! At its headquarters in Prague’s Radlice district, the bank ČSOB is now using biometric data in their place. They’re identifying employees based on fingerprints or blood-vessel scans. In the past, they also tested the use of face-recognition cameras.

On the ground floor of this office building in Prague’s Radlice district, “rush hour” is at around 9 a.m. ČSOB employees arrive at the turnstiles in waves that are synchronized with the public transport schedule. Some of them robotically pull out a plastic card, but roughly every tenth employee places their finger into a special black box above the turnstile.

This “magic box” is actually a blood-vessel scanner. It identifies each person based on a map of their blood vessels. These vessels develop in the embryo, and they do not change as we age. “Maps of the blood vessels in the finger or the palm are scanned using a close infrared light, which is absorbed by the hemoglobin in blood,” says Michal Maxa, head of the security division at ČSOB.

Michal Maxa from ČSOB presenting the advantages of biometrics during the Friendly Buildings Conference 2018

Just like every fingerprint, every blood vessel is unique. But unlike fingerprints, blood-vessel maps aren’t altered by hand injuries, and they also cannot be faked in gelatin. ČSOB employees can have their blood vessels scanned when they start their employment, or they can choose to use a traditional chip card.

“There’s nothing wrong with the plastic cards; we decided for biometric technology in the framework of innovation and of increasing our employees’ comfort and security. You can’t forget your palm, and you can’t lend it to someone else. We know clearly who has entered the building. This makes us more secure,” reasons Michal Maxa.

When Cameras Go Blind

In the ČSOB headquarters, they’ve been testing biometric technologies since back in 2007. A fingerprint reader was the first such technology to be installed. It is part of the two-factor identification required of people when they enter “rooms of exceptional importance” such as e.g. data centers. Employees must “show ID” using both their card and their fingerprint.

Five years ago, they tested out cameras for automatic face recognition next to the entrance. As Maxa describes, however, these technologies had a fairly high error rate. In part because the building’s entrance faces east. So when employees came to work in the morning and the sun was shining, the camera for recording them was “blinded” by the sun rays at their backs.

Do Not Touch

Previously the entry turnstiles have finger-vein scanners installed. Each user placed their finger into a small plastic “cradle” and then waited for a moment for the system to authorize them. When asked how hygiene was handled for this cradle, which was touched by a large number of people each day, Michal Maxa argued: “When you go to the bathroom at work, do you touch the handle just like dozens of people before you?”

Since February 2019, however, the bank upgraded from this technology to palm-vein scanners. With this step, Maxa states, people do not have to place their hand onto the scanner, as it is enough to hold it about five centimeters above a source of infrared light.

In the future, employees will also be able to log in to a work printer or a company car using a palm-vein scanner. “We’re engaged in discussions with IT about mediating access to IT equipment as well,” said Maxa. Internationally, blood-vessel-based biometrics are used for authorizing customers at BPH – a Polish bank – and meanwhile, all banks in Japan are required to use biometrics by law.

Does this, then, mean that chip cards will come to an end at ČSOB? “In practice we will be maintaining both the entry-card system and biometrics simultaneously. We would like to move away from cards in the future and use biometrics alone. We are colliding here, however, with both their financially demanding character and employees’ potential lack of agreement to the provision of their biometric data,” stated Maxa in closing.