From a Gaza checkpoint to the Diamond Exchange, biometric start-up seeks to ease security concerns

FST Biometrics sees a wide variety of uses for its technology, which seeks to change means of identification.

Erez crossing (photo credit: REUTERS)
Erez crossing
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The idea for FST Biometrics came to Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash when he was still the head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate.
One day, at the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel, he thought about the 35,000 Palestinians waiting in long lines to get through.
“How many enemies are we creating for ourselves because we’re stopping 35,000 people to stop one bad person who might be a terrorist,” he thought to himself. There had to be a better way.
Fast forward to 2008, and Farkash, out of the army, moved to establish a security company that would do just that. Just last week, the Israel Diamond Exchange adopted the technology to help the massive number of employees who need to enter the secure building do so quickly.
The technology, though complex, works simply. It is able to pick out features of pre-enrolled people in a crowd, such as their face, their height, their gait and other identifiers using just a camera. That means large crowds can walk down a hallway or toward an entrance, and it can figure out if anyone in that crowd is not supposed to be there.
“We wanted it to be in real time, in motion, so people could just keep walking through,” FST Biometrics chief marketing officer Arie Melamed said.
The company, which counts former prime minister Ehud Barak among its investors and has raised $23.5 million, according to Globes, sees a wide variety of uses for its technology.
Down the line, that kind of identification could be used to authenticate mobile payments or even open doors to the home.
An average person’s pocket or purse, Melamed said, is filled with outdated means of identification: keys, membership cards, credit cards, dongles and so forth.
“You’re schlepping a lot of identification means,” he said. “Why? It doesn’t make any sense. If you can identify, in an accurate real time way, that the person who’s standing in front of you is the one you want to sell your goods to or give a discount to, it’s great.”
But the technology has its limitations, too. For example, it relies on people being preregistered in the system, and it builds its accuracy for non-facial parameters over time. While that’s great for people with privacy concerns, it also means it might not be ideal in certain situations.
“If you want to look for people, for terrorists, there are other solutions,” Melamed said. “Our product is not designed for that purpose. Now, will it have reasonable results? Yes.” One could imagine governments posting the system at airports to scan the crowd for people on the no-fly list, for example.
In the meantime, though, the company is focusing on enterprise and financial institutions, places that need to let large numbers of certified employees in, but keep others out.
“We are naturally discussing with governments, but the processes are very long,” Melamed said. In other words, even though army checkpoints inspired the technology, it may be a while before it will be used by the IDF to ease the flow of Palestinians through checkpoints and border crossings.