Long-Range Iris-Scanning Technology Has Arrived

Using long-range iris-scanning technology, your identity can be determined from across the room with extremely high accuracy — as high as someone taking your fingerprints. 

Using long-range iris-scanning technology, your identity can be determined from across the room with extremely high accuracy — as high as someone taking your fingerprints. But, of course, you won't know your iris is being scanned, and therein lies the potentially life-saving advantages and creepy-futuristic scariness of long-range iris scanning. 


One promising application of the technology, says lead research engineer Marios Savvides of Carnegie Mellon University, is for use during traffic stops. Rather than approach a potentially dangerous person inside the vehicle to ask for identification, a police offer could scan the iris of a person as they check their rearview mirror upon being pulled over.

“Fingerprints, they require you to touch something. Iris, we can capture it at a distance, so we’re making the whole user experience much less intrusive, much more comfortable. There’s no X-marks-the-spot. There’s no place you have to stand. Anywhere between six and 12 meters, it will find you; it will zoom in and capture both irises and full face."

Like driving through EZPass tolls on the highway that don't require you to stop your vehicle, long-range iris technology could move lines of people along at airports, where ID checks are cumbersome and inconvenient for travelers rushing to a flight.

It's easy to imagine the dark side of this technology, e.g., enabling the government or private individuals to surveil you without your knowledge and identify who you are. But, says Savvides, this technology is already omnipresent:

“People are being tracked, their every move, their purchasing, their habits, where they are every day, through credit card transactions, through advantage cards — if someone really wanted to know what you were doing every moment of the day, they don’t need facial recognition or iris recognition to do that. That’s already out there.”

That's a sentiment Brad Templeton shares when he explains that today's surveillance technology is already way beyond Orwellian in size and scope. 


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The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.

Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv

Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.

The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.

While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.

One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.

"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"

Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.

The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.

Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.