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In this paper, a biometric authentication system based on measurements of the user's three-dimensional (3-D) hand geometry is proposed. The system relies on a novel real-time and low-cost 3-D sensor that generates a dense range image of the scene. By exploiting 3-D information we are able to limit the constraints usually posed on the environment and the placement of the hand, and this greatly contributes to the unobtrusiveness of the system. Efficient, close to real-time algorithms for hand segmentation, localization and 3-D feature measurement are described and tested on an image database simulating a variety of working conditions. The performance of the system is shown to be similar to state-of-the-art hand geometry authentication techniques but without sacrificing the convenience of the user.