Teen makes top 10 in MIT program with inclusive biometric ID project

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An Illinois teenager is being recognized for her biometric innovation to help indigent people around the world identify themselves to access services such as personal finance.

Elizabeth Nyamwange, 16, earned a top-10 spot in a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Solv[ED] youth innovation program. The innovation includes a solar-powered fingerprint scanner, which creates biometric templates and uploads them to a public server, with records pointing to data stored on a blockchain, Shaw Local reports.

Nyamwange’s idea is to send biometric fingerprint data through a low-bandwidth protocol similar to text messaging. In an interview with WIFR-TVshe says she was motivated to enter the competition by her deep interest in women’s issues and gender equality.

Nyamwange notes that not having an ID means “you can’t open a bank account. You don’t have legal protection, health care protection. You cannot work in the formal economy. You are not really recognized as a person by law. These vulnerabilities particularly affect women in underdeveloped economies.

His idea, Etana, compresses fingerprint biometrics into a compressed format small enough to send over 2G networks. Nyamwange says the user’s biometrics can then be used to open bank accounts as well as other private and government activities.

Etana has found fans in the solv[ED] program, which rewards young adults for innovations that can solve or alleviate societal problems. Nyamwange was competing against more than 800 applicants from 148 countries, according to WIFR.

The top 10 finalists will share $200,000 to build prototypes. Shaw reports that Nyamwange has received $36,000 so far, and each Etana scanner costs around $50 to manufacture.

Organizations like Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab and the World Bank say increased access to digital ID cards can play a role in distributing cash payments to people in need and delivering vital public services in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Article topics

biometrics | digital identity | Etana | fingerprint scanners | identification for development (ID4D) | identity verification | MIT | research and development | SDG 16.9

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