International Biometric Group has opened what it claims is the nation's first supermarket of biometric identification technology.

The BiometricStore, in midtown Manhattan, gives businesses a chance to test-drive nearly a score of biometric technologies.

Such technologies analyze unique biological characteristics such as fingerprints and can be used for transaction identification. Though few banks currently rely on biometrics, dozens of the largest institutions are testing them.

Biometric verification generally is considered more secure than other modes of identifying customers and employees.

The BiometricStore helps banks and other businesses decide which biometric technologies might fit their needs best.

"I think the store is a fantastic concept to get people exposed to biometrics," said Erik Bowman, industry analyst at Cardtech/Securtech, Bethesda, Md.

"New York City is a great location. ... I would like to see another store open up in Silicon Valley."

Mr. Bowman said widespread adoption of biometrics has been hampered by the lack of information about real-life uses of the technologies. "The market is still the best tester of devices," he said.

However, as more businesses get exposed to biometrics at the BiometricStore, it stands to reason that more will begin testing the technologies. "To some degree, biometrics are controversial," said Raj Nanavati, who with his brother Samir founded International Biometric. "They are untested technologies, yet it seems like we're on the threshold of some big, exciting applications."

He said many of the concerns and questions about biometrics have subsided as vendors' technologies have matured.

"People are pushing to the next level," he said. "By and large, the negativities have been remedied."

Biometric technologies on display at the new store include those that analyze hand geometry, retinas, voices, fingerprints, faces, and signatures.

Six companies - Ultra-Scan, Thomson CSF, National Registry Inc., Identix, Sony, and American Biometric Co.-have supplied the store with fingerprint recognition technologies.

Four companies - T-Netix, ITT Industries, Verivoice, and Veritel-are showing voice verification systems. These systems analyze cadence, tone, pitch, and sometimes other factors.

Mr. Nanavati said these products would be used mainly in phone-based applications.

Two companies - Intelligence Corp. and PenOp-are selling dynamic signature verification systems. "Dynamic signature is legally binding and most closely related to what we use now," said Mr. Nanavati.

Rounding out the store's displays are a smattering of other technologies, such as a retina scan system from EyeDentify Inc. and a hand geometry measurement system from Recognition Systems.

"Hand geometry is a very secure, easy-to-use system-particularly for secure physical access," said Mr. Nanavati. "It is robust and does not have the negative connotations of fingerprint."

Many banking observers expect biometric identification to catch on in the next few years. As banks get fewer opportunities to meet customers face-to-face, improving identification methods is likely to become a priority, they said.

One thing that could hasten bank acceptance is improved testing procedures.

Biometric vendors' claims about the security of their products cannot easily be verified or compared against competing products.

James Wayman, director of the U.S. National Biometric Test Center, founded by the Department of Defense and located at San Jose State University's College of Engineering, is working to fix this problem.

Mr. Wayman is trying to establish standards for testing and reporting the effectiveness of various technologies.

"We're testing biometric systems, performing technical comparisons, and publishing as much research as possible," Mr. Wayman said.

Next week the center plans to publish a report on background work that four fingerprint system vendors did on a social security identification project in the Philippines.

Mr. Nanavati said he expects an increasing amount of interest in his store as more data about biometrics become available.

He said he would consider opening a store in another city but had no immediate plans to do so.

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