Palm vein authentication is the process of using an individual's vein pattern to identify who they are. Despite not being very well known, it has the potential to become one of the best forms of biometric authentication. It's:

  • Contactless. A big plus for public settings like banks and hospitals.
  • Reliable. There are millions of identifiable points and regions in a vein pattern.
  • Difficult to impersonate. Even identical twins have different vein patterns.

However, one of the main drawbacks right now is the cost (sensors are currently selling for $400+).

Here's how to make a simple but accurate one for under $90 using a Raspberry Pi, OpenCV, and TensorFlow.

What You'll Need

Step 1: Getting a vein image

The first step is getting an image to work with - but how can we get an accurate picture of veins? Turns out, the hemoglobin in our blood absorbs infrared light (see below). Under the right conditions, if we take some infrared LEDs and position them under one's hand, we should be able to get a vein image!

The naked eye won't see anything since infrared lies outside of the visual spectrum, which is why we'll use the RaspberryPi NoIR camera module.

Hemoglobin Graph
Source: Pulse Oximetry

Now, we need a setup where we can get a consistent image every time. Some variables we should control:

  • Lighting - we want the IR light to be unobstructed
  • Height of palm above camera - this depends on the focal length of your camera
  • Position/orientation of palm in the image

While prototyping, an ordinary shoebox with a palm-sized hole cut out above the camera worked perfectly for me.

Just a regular shoebox

When I remade this project using an actual door, I used a simple wooden box with a circle cut out for the palm.

The circuitry is very simple - we just need to power the IR LEDs. I used 5 LEDs connected in series with a 100 ohm resistor (you may need a different resistance depending on your LEDs) and a 9V battery. The RaspberryPi is on top of the breadboard, with the camera resting on the battery facing up.


Make sure you have a sturdy setup. I taped down the breadboard and loose parts to the bottom of the shoe box, but I suggest using something more secure, like zip ties.

Now, let's take an image:

First Palm Image

Cool! A somewhat distinguishable vein pattern. Let's set up auto-cropping, as we're only concerned with the palm. This is the command I used to produce a 600x600 image (you'll want it to be square).

  raspistill -vf -w 600 -h 600 -roi 0.46,0.34,0.25,0.25 -o pic.jpg

Those 4 coordinates, (0.46, 0.34, 0.25, 0.25), define the ROI (region of interest). Yours will vary based on the positioning of the camera - it takes some trial and error, which is why you don't want your setup to move around.

Post-crop image
Post-crop image

Now we have this isolated image of our palm. Next, we need to perform some image processing before we can actually make use of it.

Step 2: Image Processing

First, install OpenCV on your Pi. Then, let's load the image and convert it to grayscale.

  # Load the 600x600 image and convert to grayscale
  img = cv2.imread("pic.jpg") 
  gray = cv2.cvtColor(img, cv2.COLOR_BGR2GRAY)

Let's start by reducing some of the noise. Luckily, OpenCV has a function for that:

  noiseReduced = cv2.fastNlMeansDenoising(gray) 
Post-crop image
After image denoising

Much smoother. Now, we need to increase the contrast to really make the veins stand out. The method I used was histogram equalization. This distributes the intensities of the pixels in the image, "equalizing" the histogram.

We then invert the image, since many OpenCV functions assume the background is black and foreground is white.

  # Histogram Equalization
  kernel = np.ones((7,7),np.uint8)
  img = cv2.morphologyEx(noiseReduced, cv2.MORPH_OPEN, kernel)
  img_yuv = cv2.cvtColor(img, cv2.COLOR_BGR2YUV)
  img_yuv[:,:,0] = cv2.equalizeHist(img_yuv[:,:,0])
  img_output = cv2.cvtColor(img_yuv, cv2.COLOR_YUV2BGR)
Post-equalization vein image
After histogram equalization and inversion

That made quite a big difference. A lot of the "skin" is gone (now black), with the vein pattern being largely white. It's still not quite ready yet - there's a lot of redundant data in this image.

Erosion is a technique used to strip away outer layers of data in images. For example, if we want to "thin" an image of the letter j using erosion:

Skeletonization example
Source: Erosion Dilation

Similarly, we want to do this with the vein image. Let's "skeletonize" it, using repeated erosion.

  img = gray.copy()
  skel = img.copy()
  skel[:,:] = 0
  kernel = cv2.getStructuringElement(cv2.MORPH_CROSS, (5,5))
  while cv2.countNonZero(img) > 0:
      eroded = cv2.morphologyEx(img, cv2.MORPH_ERODE, kernel)
      temp = cv2.morphologyEx(eroded, cv2.MORPH_DILATE, kernel)
      temp  = cv2.subtract(img, temp)
      skel = cv2.bitwise_or(skel, temp)
      img[:,:] = eroded[:,:]
Skeletonized vein image
After skeletonization (repeated erosion)

Now we're talking! I applied a quick threshold to make the veins more visible. Every pixel which is 5 or higher (everything very dark gray or lighter) will become 255 (white).

  ret, thr = cv2.threshold(skel, 5,255, cv2.THRESH_BINARY);
Final palm image
The final result!

To see how accurate this was, I overlayed the vein pattern over the original image to see if there was a correlation.

The result overlaid on the original image

It's looking good! Not perfect, but it should be more than good enough for our purposes.

Now we know how to extract the vein pattern given an image of a palm. The next step is authentication.

Step 3: Authentication

To be able to authenticate, you'll need TensorFlow installed. We'll be using a basic classification method.

I didn't have access to any public palm-vein data upon completing this project, so my variation was to authenticate between multiple hands instead (which I could provide training data for myself). So, instead of authenticating between my hand and any other random hand, the model will authenticate between multiple pre-trained hands (I used my left and my right). The code is the same, just the training data varies.

To start, we need sets of training data. I took 40 total photos for my right and left palms (20 each), and processed all of the images to get the vein patterns.

Training data
Training data

Let's throw these images in a model. train_images will be a numpy array of images represented as 2d pixel arrays.

  classes = ["left", "right"]
  num_right_train = 20
  num_left_train = 20
  # 1 for right, 0 for left
  train_labels = np.array([1]*num_right_train + [0]*num_left_train)
  train_images = np.array([])
  for i in range(num_right_train):
     pic = np.array("images/right_thr" + str(i) + ".jpg"))
     train_images = np.vstack((train_images, np.array([pic])))
  for i in range(num_left_train):
     pic = np.array("images/left_thr" + str(i) + ".jpg"))
     train_images = np.vstack((train_images, np.array([pic])))
  train_images = train_images / 255.0

We're now ready to compile and train our model! We need the keras module from TensorFlow for this.

  # Source:
  model = keras.Sequential([
     keras.layers.Flatten(input_shape=(600, 600)), # dimensions of the image
     keras.layers.Dense(64, activation=tf.nn.relu),
     keras.layers.Dense(2, activation=tf.nn.softmax)
         metrics=['accuracy']), train_labels, epochs=5)

Training took around 15 - 25 seconds for the 40 images. Now for the moment of truth - let's see if this model is any good.

Step 4: Testing and Results

I took 30 more photos of my palms (15 left, 15 right) to use as test data. I set up the test_images and test_labels in the same way as the training data.

  test_loss, test_acc = model.evaluate(test_images, test_labels)
  print('Test accuracy: ', test_acc)

I surprisingly managed to get around 93% accuracy with this model. I'm sure it can be significantly improved with a more training data, a higher quality camera, and better IR LEDs. Regardless, I was satisfied to even extract the vein data, let alone get a high accuracy!

This project was inexpensive, unique, and a lot of fun! The remake of this project, using an actual door and locking mechanism, won first place at Hack the North 2018.

I've gotten plenty of emails from others who have recreated this project themselves - get in touch if you do too! 😄