As we get ready to celebrate an incredible '20 years of innovation' milestone this year, we are speaking to our IrisGuard colleagues to hear about their journey with us, what they feel proud of and their thoughts on the future.
Andy, it’s been 20 years in the making, what are you most proud of?
In the late 1999 I linked up with Imad Malhas over at the first Biometric conference in London at the Cumberland Hotel, he was stuck under the table trying to get a VGA board connected to the iris-server when we met. I spent the next twenty years supporting the most pioneering projects that defined the iris industry. We created the UAE national iris border control system when no one was sure iris recognition worked. Then seeing how behind the camera technology was, we developed our own world-leading camera systems that was needed to scale for millions of users with 100% accuracy. Although Imad was skeptical at first, he put his trust in our engineering abilities and we designed the AD100 iris scanner, the most accurate iris imaging system ever built. The rest is history.
Our products have been on the market for decades due to unmatched UK quality and engineering and new cameras are based on the same early principles we pioneered and patented, and which we’ve continued to build on.
Going out to in the field and seeing our cameras helping people day in and day out, ensuring refugees receive their assistance with great dignity and security, protecting their entitlement gave real meaning and depth to what I was doing. It is perhaps the most rewarding and proud moment of my life. Everybody says our technology has always been in the background and I suppose that’s true because we are quite humble and modest about our achievements. We get on, do the job and produce reliable products, software and services that can be run 24/7, which people can depend on for their livelihoods. People who are otherwise living on under $5/day. Digitally including them as a pretext to financial inclusion has worked very well for millions of people using our technology.
I am also pleased that many colleagues of ours in academia who study iris recognition technology including Clarkson University, University of Notre Dame and various other academic bodies, come to us and rely on our technology for teaching PhD students, researching iris recognition subject areas and measure new algorithms against our golden standards. New techniques such as those introduced by Dr Tariq Aslam of Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, detecting corneal irregularities in children, using our modified AD100 cameras for his corneal opacification measurement system. Lots of the ISO specifications of today come from findings and features we invented over the years. It’s very rewarding to have had such a positive impact, it’s a marvelous thing really.
What keeps you driven to innovate more, what keeps you excited in the job?
I just enjoy designing. I work on the optics, the way we illuminate the iris, how the iris reacts, how the light reflects on the eyeball for example and being able to specify the lenses. I work with wonderful scientists such as Dr Roland Clark, who takes my designs and requirements and he realizes them into a high quality multi-element lens. He is one of the people, who were key to the company’s success and I am proud to have worked with him over the years.
All the design processes and innovations come from the UK and without Alan Renforth, I wouldn't have been able to get the results we have achieved. I have worked with Alan for over 30 years now in firmware and custom-electronic software development; the throbbing heart inside each of our cameras is made by Alan. His code tethers on artwork more than coding, covers many disciplines including patented countermeasures where he is a co-inventor as well. He makes the hardware sing, truly he does! Having dedicated people in the right discipline is part of our success, it allowed us to remain small but totally focused, target-driven and effective, providing robust and innovative products for our customers.
Could you share what you can, what do you think is the next big thing when it comes to iris recognition?
Our hallmark has been finding an application that no one else can build, and we build it. I think the next challenge will be Distributed Identities using the iris. This is a world where people protect their digital identities and assets using their own eye. With the advancements in cryptocurrencies and blockchain, distributed medical records, crypto-wallets and other digital inclusion services need to find their way for the hundreds of millions of poor and underprivileged. We are already working on the next generation imagery technology that will ensure under-represented people are digitally included in an increasingly digitalized and smart world. Refugees, IDP’s, migrants, poor and marginalized people of the world deserve technology that ensures they are fully represented, accounted for, protected and engaged in building a better tomorrow for all.
Working with the UNHCR, WFP, UNRWA, IOM, UN Women and other United Nations Global Compact members and generous donors who want to make a difference has been a game changer for focusing the company and its mission, the next development of the EyePay® Network will expand that capability.
Where else would you like to see our solutions being used and why?
I see our solutions doing most good in helping people better their own lives, ensure fair distribution of opportunities and assistance to a large number of otherwise marginalized people. Digital inclusion, in my view, is the key to a better life even ahead of financial inclusion, and it all starts with the identity or the individual person, we are each created unique and deserve the best that life can offer.