Fingerprinting used to be a complicated affair, involving ink and paper and making actual prints. Well, okay, so it wasn't that complicated, but now there's a new camera that can take pictures of your fingerprints from 20 feet away whether you want it to or not.
The secret to IDair's new and improved AIRprint scanner (which has upped its identification range from 5 feet to 20 feet) is that it doesn't rely on a conventional optical scan of your fingers. In other words, there's no ultra high-res gigapixel monster camera trying to snap a picture of the detail on your fingertips. Instead, AIRprint uses a pair of small (1.3 megapixel) cameras plus a "flash" of polarized light, which is a type of light whose waves oscillate in a plane. One camera is tuned to detect horizontally polarized light, while the other camera detects vertically polarized light. Since the ridges and valleys on your fingertips reflect the different polarizations with different intensities, these two small cameras can compare notes and use an algorithm to derive an accurate map of your fingerprints.
All of this happens very, very quickly. AIRprint can scan all five of your fingers in a tenth of a second (even if you're moving), and generate accurate fingerprints in less than a second. One potential use for this is commercial: an AIRprint system could be set up in a store, and instead of having to carry around a credit card or checkbook, you could just literally wave your hand in the air to identify yourself and pay for stuff.
The other obvious use for AIRprint is for identifying people from a distance covertly. Heck, someone could have already scanned your fingers and you'd never know. It could have happened today! But don't panic, there are ways to fight the technology, although it's probably inevitable that if AIRprint proves to be a popular tool with law enforcement, it'll become illegal to wear gloves or walk around with your hands in your pockets. What, you have a problem with that? You don't have something to hide, do you?