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Gentlemen, start your engines--using your veins

Hitachi is bringing its finger vein authentication technology to steering wheels.

Good news for people prone to losing their car keys. Someday soon, all you'll need to start the engine will be the veins in your finger.

Japanese electronics giant Hitachi is bringing its finger vein authentication technology to steering wheels, fitting them with a biometric reader that only starts the engine for drivers with recognizable vein patterns.

Steering wheel vein authentication

Veins can also be used as switches for the car stereo and navigation system, reports Pink Tentacle, as well as to identify driver preferences, such as seat and mirror position or air conditioner setting.

Hitachi's system--already used in ATMs, computers and cardless payment systems--relies on image sensors and near-infrared light passing through the finger to measure a person's unique vein configuration.

A model car equipped with the biometric steering wheel setup will be on display at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show, which takes place from October 27 to November 11. Hitachi hasn't announced when the system will hit the road, but says it hopes to launch it within three or four years.

Vein readers aren't the exclusive domain of Hitachi, however. Fujitsu's PalmSecure technology reads the vein patterns in a human hand to protect access to secure information. Users simply place their right hand over a sensor, which detects the vein pattern and deoxidized hemoglobin within their veins to ensure the user's identity.

And Luminetx, a small medical supply company in Memphis, Tenn., is taking a technology originally developed to help doctors and nurses find veins in patients needing injections and marketing it to banks, credit card companies and even Homeland Security officials.