Bridging the Identity Gap Through Design

The Simprints Vero Scanner: A biometric scanner designed for use in the World’s toughest settings

By Matt Durbin, Designer at therefore

The Simprints Vero Scanner in use

In 2014 we began a journey to help a startup social enterprise design and build their very first ingenious product, developing it to the point of production and helping deliver it into the hands of those who would need it most.

The Problem

Healthcare providers working in developing communities regularly confront challenges with patient identification due to lack of official documentation, common community names, unknown dates of birth and human error. This lack of basic information can prevent those same individuals from accessing fundamental services such as formal education, financial services and most prominently receiving appropriate healthcare — slowing any type of diagnosis and ultimately costing lives.

The World Bank estimates that over a fifth of the entire world population (equal to the combined populations of China and Russia!) has no official identity. So what is being done to identify the unidentified?

Field research in the slums of Bangladesh

The World Bank estimates that over a fifth of the entire world population (equal to the combined populations of China and Russia!) has no official identity. So what is being done to document the undocumented?

Simprints’ Vision And Commitment To Impact

Simprints, a Cambridge University non-profit tech company, are committed to improving the lives of the poor and vulnerable by building the first ever low-cost, open-source, biometric system of its kind. Few companies have utilised biometric technology for applications in the Developing World, but with a system that provides 228% more accuracy than existing mobile scanners in low-resource environments, Simprints were intent on bringing that technology to the world.

“People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” — Alan Kay

Early on in the process, Simprints recognised that human factors would be vital in optimising their scanner’s technological potential, as well as providing the most appropriate physical interaction between care provider and patient. The lack of suitable and available products led the team to embark on building a comprehensive biometric system with robust hardware optimized for context and open-source software compatible with any system that uses open standards.

Product development sketches of the Vero Scanner

The team’s initial focus on the healthcare community, specifically maternal care and vaccinations, provides a solid foundation of knowledge and experience upon which real impact can be measured. This will help identify new users, broaden their scope and apply their technology to meet actual human needs.

Making A Difference

As with their product development, Simprints applied the same rigour in screening to find the right design partners for the job. By collaborating with therefore, Simprints showed they were confident in our ability to deliver a considered and effective product, from establishing the preferred design pathway to the final engineered solution.

from left to right: two volunteers from the Bangladesh medical services, Martin Riddiford (therefore Founder), Toby Norman (CEO of Simprints) and Sebastian Manhart (Dir. of Business Development at Simprints)

Quickly a close working relationship developed through the evolution of the product specifications and user understanding, with the design team at our London studio working through iterative ergonomic rigs, models and prototypes to test various principles. therefore’s involvement and direct particpation in field testing in Southern Asia also proved vital to our appreciation of the issues within the operational environments and real-life scenarios. During the trials, we adjusted to unanticipated, yet crucial social and cultural challenges, one of which was to avoid direct physical contact (especially between genders) between those administering the scan, and those receiving it — something that is currently unacceptable in many countries. We needed to find the right means of managing the scanning process, as both scanner and user must be simultaneously touching the device.

Vero’s scanning zone is configured to accommodate a patient’s finger in a bowl-like recess, giving a degree of enclosure and hence protection against contact with the carer’s fingers. The shaping of the cavity underneath the scanning zone is designed to allow the patient to position another finger so that they can firmly pinch or press down on the scanning plate. These ergonomic features guide the patient, allow them to quickly understand where and how to pinch the device when directed.

The entire selection of prototypes, ranging from hand carvings to production

The other safeguard we implemented against unwanted physical contact was a wide, silicone rubber strap in which the carer inserts their fingers, acting as a barrier, but also providing a secure means of holding the device. Where human contact is acceptable, the device is designed to enable the carer to place their thumb or forefinger firmly on top of the patient’s finger to ensure the best possible scan, first time.

A series of iterative prototypes were field-tested by Simprints in six countries including Nepal and Bangladesh over an 18-month period. Such an ethnographic approach enabled the teams to gather essential user feedback and insights, which were fed back into the ongoing development process in London.

The final version of the Vero Scanner, tested and completed in October 2016

During the latter stages of the physical design and engineering, attention shifted to the UX/UI requirements and SmartDesign joined the team to add their expertise in the development of wireframes for the partner phone app.

Going Forward

Together with therefore and partners, in 2016 Simprints released the world’s first ever portable Vero fingerprint scanner that wirelessly syncs with a health worker’s smartphone. By being able to instantly link an individual’s fingerprints to their medical records, delivery of healthcare now has the ability to reach parts of the world it never has before, saving time, effort and potentially millions of lives.

The Vero Scanner in full operation with healthcare providers, Bangladesh, December 2016