Hitachi is developing a biometric device that would identify a driver by reading the veins in his fingers. Each finger could authorise something different, according to Hitachi. For instance, one finger could authorise the driver to start the car, another finger could be scanned to adjust the seat or mirror, and yet another finger could authorise the payment for a hamburger at a drive-through.

The company would not divulge how soon the technology might be fitted into automobiles coming off the production line. However a spokesman did say that Hitachi is working to commercialise the biometric technology and that it will start with the automotive industry.

The finger-vein reader, similar to the more well-known fingerprint reader, works by matching up the veins in the driver's finger to corresponding information stored in the device's database. The scanner reads the finger-vein pattern by passing light through the finger.

Hitachi noted that its engineers have been researching ways to use biometric authentication technology to replace traditional keys since 1997. In 2005, researchers developed a finger-vein authentication technology that allowed a door to be opened simply by gripping the handle.

The company is planning on using the same kind of technology for building access, PC log-in and automated teller machine authorisation.