Iris recognition is the process of recognizing a person by analyzing the random pattern of the iris. The automated method of iris recognition is relatively young, existing in patent since only 1994. The iris is a muscle within the eye that regulates the size of the pupil, controlling the amount of light that enters the eye. It is the colored portion of the eye, and the coloring is based on the amount of melatonin pigment within the muscle. Although the coloration and structure of the iris are genetically linked, the pattern details are not. The iris develops during prenatal growth through a process of tight forming and folding of the tissue membrane. Prior to birth, degeneration occurs, resulting in the pupil opening and the iris forming random, unique patterns. Although genetically identical, an individual’s irides are unique and structurally distinct, which allows for them to be used for recognition purposes.
In 1936, ophthalmologist Frank Burch proposed the concept of using iris patterns as a method to recognize an individual. More information (pdf)
Before recognition of the iris takes place, the iris is located using landmark features. These landmark features and the iris’ distinct shape allow for imaging, feature isolation, and extraction. More information (pdf)
Iris vs. Retina Recognition
While iris recognition utilizes the iris muscle to perform verification, retinal recognition uses the unique pattern of blood vessels on an individual’s retina at the back of the eye. More information (pdf)
United States Government Evaluations
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Intelligence Technology Innovation Center co-sponsored a test of iris recognition accuracy, usability, and interoperability referred to as the Independent Testing of Iris Recognition Technology. More information (pdf)
Current standards work in the area of iris recognition exists on the national and international level. More information (pdf)
Having only become automated and available within the past decade, the iris recognition concept and industry are still relatively new, so a need for continued research and testing remains. Through the determination and commitment of industry, government evaluations, and organized standards bodies, growth, and progress will continue to raise the bar for recognition technology.
Note: The text above is excerpted from biometrics.gov.