Montgomery to ID with finger vein scanners

Ten-year-old Rohith Chintala of Potomac checks in the old-fashioned way at the Germantown Indoor Swim Center.
Ten-year-old Rohith Chintala of Potomac checks in the old-fashioned way at the Germantown Indoor Swim Center. (Brian Lewis/the Gazette)
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By Cody Calamaio
Gazette Staff
Thursday, August 12, 2010

Access to the gym might be only a touch away as the Montgomery County Department of Recreation moves away from plastic passes and toward a new technology that turns bodies into bar codes.

Beginning in the fall, county officials plan to replace the plastic cards customers use to gain access to pools, weight rooms and community center programs at the Department of Recreation's 33 facilities with biometric finger vein scanners.

The move is expected to save the county $50,000 annually, said Robin Riley, a division chief in the Department of Recreation.

The scanners, which resemble a computer mouse, create a unique code for each person. The devices read vein patterns by reacting with hemoglobin in blood, said Michael Trader, president of Atlanta-based M2SYS Technology, a vendor of the scanners.

Officials will test the scanners in three locations before using them in all centers in the spring, Riley said. The Germantown Indoor Swim Center, the Holiday Park Senior Center in Wheaton and either the Potomac Community Recreation Center or the Marilyn J. Praisner Community Recreation Center in Burtonsville will be the first to receive scanners because they are the busiest locations.

Reaction from center users has been mixed.

"When you go to jail they get your fingerprints, not when you go to play," said Sanome Barbieri, 40, of Chevy Chase. She moved from Italy a few months ago and uses the Potomac Community Recreation Center to play pool and take classes.

John Leslie, 81, of Potomac uses the gym at the Potomac Community Recreation Center three times a week. "I don't see a problem with it either way," he said. "It would be easier. You don't have to carry a card."

Officials calculate that the use of scanners, as opposed to cards, could save the department $50,000 annually in supply and maintenance costs for the card system, Riley said. About 90,000 cards are in circulation and, although free to the customer, each costs the department about $1.50, she said.

Officials from the department's software vendor, Active Network, have been pushing for the upgrade to scanners for three years, Riley said. The county plans to upgrade its software next month.

The card scanners at the Department of Recreation cost about $2,000 dollars each, said James Reyes, a general manager with Active Network. The biometric vein scanners Active Network could sell the department from M2SYS Technology would cost $367 each, he said.

Although recreation officials have not identified a vendor for the machines, they estimate they could buy the finger scanners for $100 each, Riley said, adding that two will be purchased for most of the county recreation facilities.

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