Fujitsu has used Mobile World Congress to show off a a smartphone with an iris scanner that can authenticate users in less than a second. The prototype is the first of its kind, according to the company.

The iris scanner makes it easier to unlock a phone than using ones hands. It recognises the patterns that are unique to each person's iris, the colored area around the pupil, and can work even if you are using glasses or contact lenses.

Fujitsu used MWC in Bercelona to demo iris scanning technology on the smartphone. Image IDG News Service
Fujitsu used MWC in Bercelona to demo iris scanning technology on the smartphone. Image IDG News Service

The prototype consists of a piece of hardware weighing less than 1 gram thats been grafted onto a regular smartphone. Fujitsu managed to miniaturise an infrared LED light, located on the top left above the smartphone screen, and an infrared camera, which is located on the top right.

Users first register their unique iris pattern, which is stored in the phone and not transmitted. The registration is done by looking into a pair of animated circles in a guidance app. The irises are illuminated with the infrared light and the infrared camera captures an image of the pattern.

Once the iris pattern is registered, the phone can be unlocked in less than a second as long as its held not too far away. It doesnt have to be uncomfortably close, either. Unlike most iris-recognition systems, the phone doesnt have to be held within a few centimeters of the eyes.

The prototype incorporates a high-speed, high-accuracy iris recognition algorithm developed by California-based Delta ID. Fujitsu said the error rate is about one in 100,000.

This device can be used to unlock applications and for cloud authentication," said Takuya Kitamura of Fujitsu's Ubiquitous Business Strategy Unit. "Fujitsu is also working to make this an enterprise security solution, adding iris authentication to fingerprint and vein scanning."

Fujitsu previously developed gaze-tracking sensors for shopping applications as well as palm-vein scanners for laptops and tablets. It could bring the iris scanner to such devices as well.

The company hasn't decided on how the iris authentication technology will be commercialised, but wants to bring it to market in the year ending March 31, 2016.