Part 3: Biometrics and Wearable Technology – The Inevitable Marriage?
Part Three in a four part series.
Parts one and two of this series looked at the market for wearable devices and how biometrics can be used with today’s wearable technology. In this installment we will look at revolutionary biosensors of the not too distant future and the impact they will have on biometrics as we know it.
If you saw Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation you will undoubtedly remember the smart contact lens with the built in camera and communications that was able to photograph documents and send the images to a PC. Pretty farfetched, huh?
Well Samsung has been granted a patent for contact lenses with a display that can project images straight into the user’s eye. The lenses are equipped with a built-in camera and sensors that can be controlled simply by blinking.
Not to be outdone, Sony has applied for a patent for a pair of lenses with an organic electroluminescence display screen that allows you to view video, images, and other information. The Sony contact lens can be controlled by the user with the blink of an eye using embedded piezoelectric sensors that measure eyelid closure time to differentiate between an average blink and extended blink for control. Last but not least it includes a power source that uses electromagnetic induction to keep the lens operating throughout the day.
So for those of you who dream about a discrete alternative to Google Glass – Samsung and Sony are building a product for you!
And if your mind isn’t already blown by the possibilities of wearable technology, consider the next generation of biosensors – nanosensors. Although still in its infancy, extensive research is going into nanotechnology capable of being placed inside the human body to monitor, examine and treat medical conditions. Future nanosensors will be capable of measuring unique physical attributes that are impossible or impractical to capture using external sensors.
To put it simply, nanosensors will literally turn biometric solutions inside out!
What types of biometrics are best suited to take advantage of future wearable technology?
Gait recognition identifies an individual by the way they walk. Traditionally gait recognition uses video analytics and requires clear field of view and an extended capture area. However some of the smart clothing being developed for sports and exercise includes accelerometer sensors embedded in shorts, pants, socks and shoes. These sensors are able to provide a continuous stream of gait biometrics even in crowds or behind obstructions. And because gait is very difficult to spoof, gait recognition could be useful for continuous access control in sensitive facilities.
Or how about skull recognition? Persons who wear smart glasses or smart headphones can reportedly be identified based on the way sound is conducted through their head. According to research from the University of Stuttgart, Saarland University and the Max Planck Institute for Informatics, each skull shape is unique and sound transmission through the skull can be captured as a biometric pattern that can be matched much like voice identification using a solution they call SkullConduct1. So if you are a smart glasses user and don’t want someone else to pick up your glasses and access your data, this could be the biometric for you.
But the biometric modality that is best positioned to benefit from future wearable biosensors is bioelectrical identification. As your doctor will tell you, bioelectrical activity in the heart, muscles and brain is measured and classified using electrocardiograms, electroencephalograms and electromyograms. Electrocardiograms (or ECGs) measure the electrical activity in the heart as it contracts. Cardiologists have long used ECG’s to detect heart anomalies, but research shows that the ECG signal is unique to each individual. The ECG signal is comprised of five specific waves that can be accurately measured and matched to identify an individual. Similar to ECGs, Electromyograms (EMG) and Electroencephalograms (EEG) measure electrical activity in the skeletal muscles and in the brain. Like Electrocardiograms, EMG and EEG signals are unique to individuals and can be used for biometric identification. Traditionally bioelectrical activity is recorded using a series of wired sensors attached to the body using adhesives and conductive gels. That works fine in a hospital, but it isn’t very convenient for most biometric identification applications. But with biosensor networks and smart clothing, hundreds of sensors can be built into your clothing and other wearables to provide highly accurate and spoof-resistant biometric authentication with no wires.
How will advanced wearable biometrics be used in the future?
Some wearable technologies are capable of biometrically identifying other people. In other words, answering the question “Who are you?” Body worn cameras, smart glasses and other worn accessories using facial or iris recognition technologies are probably the best candidates for these applications, and applications focus on identifying known individuals on a watch list.
But the more likely application of biometrics in wearables is for biometric authentication. Biometric authentication answers the question “Are you really who you claim to be?”
Authentication applications lend themselves well to the emerging biosensors and biometric technologies by blending biometric data capture ubiquitously into clothing or even our bodies themselves. So whether authenticating a financial transaction, entering a secure space or accessing a corporate database, the process is completely hands-free.
Worried about broadcasting your identity or other personal information to anyone who wants to eavesdrop on your wireless body area network of biosensors? Sure, you could do that with voice commands (“Transmit identity confirmation”), but with sensors that monitor your brain waves, in the future it may be as simple as “willing” your sensors to transmit your authentication details.
But if emerging biosensors are able to detect and accurately measure geolocation, heart rate, breathing, body temperature, brain activity, muscle tension and blood chemistry, then the possible applications go far beyond biometric authentication.
In the final installment of this series, we will examine the technological and sociological barriers confronting wearable biometrics and offer five predictions on the future of wearable biometrics.
1“Researchers Announce Skull-Sound Authentication”, Perceptual User Interfaces, 25 April 2016