Synaptics to debut an under-the-glass fingerprint sensor
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Image Credit: Synaptics

Image Credit: Synaptics

The setup would maximize both user security and display space

Synaptics announced today that it has developed an optical fingerprint sensor, the FS9100, “capable of high-resolution scanning through 1mm of full cover glass and enables clean, button-free industrial designs.” The successful rollout of this technology would help bring true edge-to-edge smartphones closer to reality.

The FS9100 is to be the first such tool in a line of them going by the moniker “Natural ID,” according to a press release from Synaptics. The device will also be able to distinguish fake fingerprints from real ones to ensure security when users sign in.

According to PCWorld, mass production will begin the second quarter of 2017 if sample demonstrations go as planned in the next few months. “The ultimate goal,” a blog post from the company written in October says, “is to enable fingerprint scanning anywhere in the display.” For the near future, though, the sensor will be located in the same spot where today’s physical buttons are found. It cannot function across the screen part itself without that space set aside. But with optical technology improvements, it will one day be possible to set it up any place on the screen, including the fingerprinting function.

The technology is no longer beyond the realm of present-day materials science, as even regular commercial phones are incorporating some form of under-the-glass sensors. But this development is significant because it will rapidly make current methods obsolete when perfected.

At present, the most advanced under-the-glass technology uses ultrasonics to detect users’ fingers. The new technology will not require a reduction in glass thickness to do that, as is the case with existing capacitive setups. For capacitive technology to function under-the-glass today, it needs to have only 0.35mm of glass present, a third of what the Natural ID system will allow smartphone designers to work with.

This shift would improve the overall strength of the phone’s face by allowing uniform thickness even as the sensitivity of the home button would increase. It would also enlarge the overall display area, since the dead space at the bottom (and top) would not be needed.

No customers have been announced, though Samsung is a possibility given the relationship between the two companies.

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