For as long as there have been cars, there have been car thieves.
Despite the growth of kill switches, high-pitched alarms and various other devices designed to thwart the thieves, few things have worked.
Now, iris-scan technology is looking to make it far tougher for auto thieves to drive away with a new vehicle.
"We think users will get it quickly that this is really making their car secure," said Tom Malone, president of Voxx Electronics.
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Voxx Electronics, which specializes in mobile and consumer electronics products, has been working with EyeLock to develop a system that scans the iris of those in the driver's seat and will only allow the car to be started if the driver's iris is recognized.
"It's going to be used so the wrong person can't start your car and steal it," said Tony Antolino, chief marketing officer for EyeLock.
Even though the number of stolen vehicles in the U.S. is down dramatically compared to the early 1990s when almost 2 million vehicles were stolen annually, it is still a huge problem. The Insurance Information Institute says 699,594 vehicles were stolen in the U.S. last year, or an average of one every 45 seconds.
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The developers at EyeLock expect iris-scan technology in vehicles will stop auto thieves. The system includes infrared cameras mounted in the visor or dashboard that measure more than 240 distinct aspects of the iris, making it virtually impossible for somebody other than those designated to drive the vehicle.
"The odds are one in several trillion that two different people have the same iris signature," said Antolino.
The EyeLock technology is being watch closely by the insurance industry and fleet vehicle operations, like trucking companies, because it provides a way to verify that the person who should be driving is actually the person behind the wheel.
"With iris authentication and EyeLock technology you actually know who the driver is," said Malone. "You would think that a fleet would see tremendous value in using that information to know how long a driver has been driving, is he authorized to be driving."
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Insurance companies could use iris scanning to measure when certain drivers are behind the wheel.
"If a 16-year-old is driving, or a 17-year-old is driving at night, there's a much higher risk, you are paying the premium for," said Antolino. "If you incorporate iris authentication into that value chain, you know with certainty, and in turn the insurance company knows with certainty, who is driving the car and at what day part, and what their driving habits are."
Voxx Electronics expects aftermarket versions of the EyeLock technology will be ready within a couple of years so those owning existing car and truck models can add the system. As for new vehicles, EyeLock executives are in talks with a number of automakers and expect the system to be offered in some new vehicles within three to four years.