Panasonic today announced the launch of the UK's first PC webcam with iris recognition technology, providing the security conscious man in the street with access to tools normally reserved for airports, banks and border checkpoints.

The BM-ET100 ‘authenticam’, takes a picture of the user's iris using Iridian's PrivateID software, which it then breaks down into patterns to produce a complex algorithm. This creates a binary code, similar to a barcode, for each eye scanned. The authenticam provides an impenetrable security barrier, as the likelihood of another person having the same iris pattern is 1/1078.

"Iris recognition is the most secure form of recognition technology," said a spokesperson at Panasonic. "There are 244 variables in the iris, which are converted into code. In finger printing there are only 60 variables, which highlights the level of accuracy the machine requires."

The new device, which can be networked or used for a single PC, eliminates the need for passwords and pin numbers, so users don't have to remember their dog's name, mother’s maiden name or whatever password they happen to be using that month. Plus, an iris does not alter throughout their life so once the image is stored its there forever.

The authenticam also contains a webcam, which enables networked cameras to prevent certain members of staff from accessing certain web pages or company information without prior permission, validated them with an iris scan each time they log in.

The camera will set you back around £300, but it is only compatible with Windows 98 and 2000, unless it is networked to recognise other systems such as Unix. An XP-compatible device is expected to be launched early next year.

But, this is only the beginning for consumer biometric products. Panasonic has already developed iris recognition technology embedded onto a chip, in collaboration with graphics card maker Nvidia, which will be used in mobile phones and PDAs, a perfect security system for stopping phone thieves.