Fujitsu is launching what it claims will be the world’s first biometric palm scanner, checking veins in the human hand to verify someone's identity.

The Palm Vein Identification System will be showcased at next week’s CeBit Show in Hanover, and the company hopes it will render current biometric systems - including those based purely on fingerprints - obsolete.

The system works by scanning the unique pattern of veins in an individual’s hand, which show up clearly when bombarded with near infrared rays. Specifically, it is the "reduced" de-oxygenated haemoglobin running through the veins that absorbs the rays, creating a bright "reflected" vein image.

This vein handprint is said not to vary over a lifetime and to be so unique that identical twins can be easily distinguished. Because veins are under the surface of the skin, they are also impossible to tamper with.

Like any other biometric system, someone using the system would need to pre-register their hand pattern in advance. On subsequent authentication, this image would be checked against the one presented.

Fujitsu claims the technology has a false rejection rate (where a genuine scan is rejected) of 0.1 percent, considerably better than that obtainable from the most optimistic fingerprint-based systems. The false acceptance rate (where a false scan is accepted) is quoted as 0.0020 percent- equivalent, one surmises, to one person in 50,000 slipping through the net.

The technology was first announced by the company two years ago but the new launch marks its debut as a working pre-commercial system. What Fujitsu has yet to reveal is when the system will actually be ready to be sold to real customers, and what trials have been carried out to verify the claims made for it in the marketing materials.

Certainly, the accuracy rates being quoted for the system are an order of magnitude better than those said to apply when it was originally mooted in 2003. Then, the false rejection rate was an inconvenient 1.0 percent, with a false acceptance rate of 0.5 percent.

Applications of the system are said to include withdrawing money from ATMs without the need for a PIN number, though the company suggests it might be used in conjunction with other biometric technologies such as voice recognition in a layered security design.