Advanced Imaging – April 1998

Buttoning Up Imaging Applications
by Sheldon Liebman

One of the topics getting a lot of attention today is the use of smart card technology for all types of applications, including imaging. But there’s another technology out there that may have a place in our industry – smart buttons. Smart buttons can work just like smart cards, but they offer "more ruggedness, versatility and ease of installation," says Jim Rich, President of Solutions Engineering, Inc. in East Hartford, CT.

Smart button technology starts with a programmable memory chip or EEPROM to store information. The Solutions Engineering product, called a "Smart-Dot," uses a polymer to surround the chip, protecting it from damage. A similar product is available from Dallas Semiconductor. Called the "iButton," this version is encased in stainless steel.

In addition to the button, both systems offer a receptacle that accepts a button and allows an action to occur based on the information that it contains. In the simplest case, the smart button has an access code that is used as a "yes" or "no" for a specific process. When connected to an electronic lock, for example, these systems can allow or prevent access to rooms or buildings.

At a higher level, the receptacles can be connected to computer systems. This provides a more intelligent interface that can restrict access to software programs or to the functions that can be performed within these programs. Typically, the buttons are programmed with codes that determine what functions can be performed.

Imaging applications require that these products move to an even higher level. Depending on how its used, a lot of data must be stored in a button. The Smart-Dot, for example, currently stores 128 bits of information, of which 80 is available to the user. Rich says the next generation will increase this to 512 bits. In the case of the iButton, different models are available supporting up to 64K bits of information.

What applications might benefit from smart dot technology? One example presented by Rich is storing settings for remote equipment. "You might have a camera that’s remotely located," he suggests, "and you need to make sure it’s set correctly. You could program a key with the correct settings as well as a code that says whether or not you are authorized to override them."

Another example is to use the button as part of a pattern recognition system, especially if the pattern is black and white. You could create different buttons for each pattern and have an application use the correct pattern based on which button is plugged in.

At the highest level, these buttons can be used as part of an ID system. Each person’s button can contain identifying information that is compared with a live or stored reading. If the patterns match, the identity of the user is confirmed.

This is exactly the type of application that was recently announced by Dallas Semiconductor in partnership with Dycam, Inc., a leading manufacturer of digital photography equipment. A few months ago, the companies introduced a new product called the iCam Digital Camera, which combines a Dycam camera with a Dallas Semiconductor iButton. The iCam takes a digital photograph of a subject and then compresses the image down to approximately 3K bytes, which is stored in the iButton along with other information like the name of the subject or a description of the picture. When the iButton is placed in a receptacle, the picture is automatically downloaded and displayed on a computer terminal.

Today, this technology is targeted at security applications where the picture on the iButton can be matched with the live subject by a security guard or other appropriate person. In another application, a company is experimenting with storing a retinal scan on the iButton so that a person’s identity can be verified automatically. According to Michael Bolan, Vice President of Marketing and Product Development at Dallas Semiconductor, "The marriage of (digital cameras and iButton technology) could significantly impact the security industry and the entire process for producing ID cards, driver’s licenses, passports (and other items) in the future. The button becomes the user’s personal identification."

Smart button technology for imaging is still in its infancy. However, the introduction of the iCam indicates that the potential is there. It will be interesting to see how many more applications use this alternative to smart card technology over the next few years.

For More Information:

Dallas Semiconductor
4401 Beltwood Parkway
Dallas, TX 75244-3292
Contact: Customer Service
Phone: 972-371-6824
Fax: 972-371-3869

Dycam, Inc.
9414 Eton Avenue
Chatsworth, CA 91311
Contact: Sales
Phone: 818-407-3960
Fax: 818-407-3966

Solutions Engineering, Inc.
100 Prestige Park Road
East Hartford, CT 06108
Contact: Jim Rich
Phone: 860-290-6521
Fax: 860-290-6520

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