A visit to Card Tech, the Italian company on the forefront of Biometric Smart Card development

By | November 13, 2017

On a cloudy day of Autumn, I found myself in a car riding through an industrial area at the southern border of the city of Udine, the historical capital of Friuli, in the northeastern Italy. The car stopped at the gate of Friuli Innovazione a Science and Technology Park hosting innovative start-ups, industrial research spin offs and research laboratories of universities. Here, I am welcomed by Mr. Fabrizio Borracci, CEO and founder of Card Tech, that explains me that his company is among the more than thirty labs and start-ups that operate at the research centre.

To better understand how everything started we need to go back to year 2005 when, during a family holiday, Mr. Borracci found that his credit card was cloned and that funds were gone from his bank account. After the initial shock, Fabrizio started his own study of the card frauds and realized that not many solutions where available on the market to mitigate the kind of fraud that he experienced himself.

Without losing heart, Fabrizio started to think about all possible solutions for the problem until he got an intuition to use something personal, very personal to create a unique link between the card and its rightful owner.

Using personal and friends funds, Fabrizio founded Card Tech S.r.l. in 2006 and soon after he started to assemble the team for the development of a smart card containing – within its structure – a fingerprint sensor. The idea was to use the cardholder fingerprint to allow the card to become operative. A really breakthrough in the smart card industry!

The campus of Friuli Innovazione a Science and Technology Park, where Card Tech has established their headquarters.

The conceptual idea of a Biometric Smart Card was then secured with four patents filed in Italy (UD2005A000111, UD2006A000028, UD2006A000075, UD2007A0000046) that were later put together and become two international patents (WO/2007/003301 and WO/2007/110142A1) that have been filed worldwide through PCT process of the World Intellectual Property Organization and are already granted in Europe, India, China, USA, Australia, Russia, Canada and several other countries. Those are most probably the first and most comprehensive set of patents on Biometric Smart Card working mechanism.

The first years of the development where tough because flexible fingerprint sensor and biometric matching algorithms optimized for the limited computing resources of a smart card were not available in the industry. Also, there was no human resources, available in the local market, possessing key hybrid competences in payment, electronics and biometrics so Card Tech had to create a team starting from scratch, with important investments of time and financial resources.  Building up from the first flexible swipe fingerprint sensor, provided by the partner IDEX, Fabrizio and his team in 2014 launched Pinkey Smart, a self-powered ISO-Compliant Biometric smart card. On the same year, the card was demoed with great success at the Cartes exhibition in Paris.

At the time, the swipe sensor was an obliged choice and they found that was able to deliver a very large image and therefore producing a high quality template corresponding to the user fingerprint. The only real issue was related to human behaviour, in fact to obtain a good quality scanning, the user had to go through a learning curve: this potential issue was not compatible with Card Tech’s plan to scale volumes very quickly to reach a competitive price point.

It was after a strategic partnership with a major payment company in 2015 and the following involvement of a tier-one smart card producer that Card Tech decided to move to a touch sensor, asking the Norwegian partner to customize a component that could provide the best price/biometric performances when combined to Card Tech’s flexible electronic layer architecture.

This biometric inlay was designed in a way to be easily integrated into hot lamination process that is a major standard in use at most card manufacturers worldwide.

The prototypes of the new card with the flexible area sensor where a big hit in the industry and that allowed Card Tech to engage several strategic key players of the card and payment eco-system.

This shall not be a surprise, in fact a recent research by The Nilson Report reported that during year 2016 the global gross financial cards fraud reached $22.80 billion, up 4.4% over 2015. On the identification side, more and more governments are looking new ways to securely identify citizens and migrants; organizations of any size are looking into the big issue of secure logical and physical access control. Card Tech is focusing with a clear vision and a solid IP portfolio to the markets of Payment Cards, ID Cards and Access Control Cards. New patents are also about to be filed, further strengthening the company’s offering to the smart card manufacturers worldwide.

The current, perfectioned product, is a ISO 7810-ID1 contact smart card without battery, fully compliant with physical, bending and torsion specified in the ISO 7816 series, integrating an IDEX Touch sensor.

The architecture of the new product is anyhow Secure Elements and Area Sensor agnostic.

The Card Tech biometric smart card.

Fabrizio’s company, that so far invested more than 6M€ in R&D, is currently rising more funds to sustain the growth and the internationalization of the company.

First shipments of the Contact-Only Biometric cards will happen in early 2018, and the small but specialized team of electronic engineers, firmware developers, materials experts and electronic manufacturing experts already accepted the challenge for the next new exciting product: a dual interface biometric smart card! Moreover, the expertise in this technology will allow Card Tech to bring innovative biometric authentication to other form factors.

Thanks to Fabrizio for the visit and I sincerely hope they can achieve great successes in the near future!

Antonio D’Albore