The FingerChip project

The FingerChip project started end of 1995. With the impulse of my boss Daniel, I proposed this crazy project to produce a biometric (bio-what? at this time...) sensor in a Thomson-CSF unit (TMS) that was absolutely not in that kind of business, under the form of a fingeprint sensor, using the same technology than the uncooled infrared-camera we were producing at this time, so a thermal-based fingerprint sensor.

And moreover, the proposed sensor shape was rather strange: it will look like a kind of little bar instead of a the regular square shape, and the user will be obliged to swipe his/her finger over it! The idea was too crazy at this time, and I got the authorization to create a regular square sensor first, immediatly followed by a swipe-type, as described in the products pages.

So we started to promote and market the idea with some demonstrations, you can see that in the History page. I have done myself some promotion tools and weird things around this project: as we got only some limited resource, everyone was making a lot of different things!

In 2000, Atmel bought the Thomson-CSF unit where the FingerChip was designed and produced and became Atmel-Grenoble, and the project got a strong impulse. At this time, the first big projects involving a large number of pieces were starting, and new interfaces, features, package types have been added, thus creating a whole family of products.

In 2006, Atmel sold the Grenoble unit to E2V, but the FingerChip was out of the deal: the FingerChip project was transfered in a specific unit, Atmel-France. In 2008, Atmel decided to stop the biometric activity, and production was phased out in 2009.

Allégorie :)
My reflection in a 6" FingerChip wafer :)
Making swipe fingerprint sensor is a cheap solution for silicon manufacturers, because of the larger number of candidates on one wafer, which cost is the same whatever the circuit is.

Image from 50 years of biometric research: Accomplishments, challenges, and opportunities
Anil K. Jain, Karthik Nandakumar, Arun Ross / Jan 2016.

Unfortunately, the 1997 sensor is not from Thomson-CSF :( That said, thank you to consider this invention as an important step in fingerprint sensing!

Also, Apple did not made the first phone with a fingerprint sensor, (I count about 100 different phones before, and the first real consumer product was the HP iPAQ) but they really opened the fingerprint sensor market in September 2013 with the iPhone 5S. Why? Maybe it was just the right time...