Biometrics: Scanning eyes, ears, heart and even scent

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Measuring-eyes-ears-heart-and-even-scent-760x428It’s hard to think of bio­met­ric iden­ti­ty tech­nol­o­gy with­out pic­tur­ing Tom Cruise on the run in the movie Minor­i­ty Report. Hunt­ed by killer robots with iris scan­ning equip­ment and hailed by ani­mat­ed bill­boards that use sim­i­lar tech to per­son­alise their adverts, Cruise is reduced to a full eye trans­plant to evade cap­ture and death.

It made for a great film, but it didn’t do the bio­met­rics indus­try many favours. Active in one form or anoth­er since the inven­tion of fin­ger­prints, the com­mer­cial use of bio­met­ric data has pro­ceed­ed in fits and starts over the past 20 years. One pos­si­ble delay to what was assumed to be inevitable when the movie was released in 2002 is view­ers’ ner­vous­ness about tech­nol­o­gy that looked creepy and invasive.

Peo­ple in the UK have proved wary of eye-scan­ning sys­tems to date,” says Steven Mur­doch, prin­ci­ple research fel­low in the depart­ment of com­put­er sci­ence at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege London.

Iris-scan­ning sys­tems designed to speed up immi­gra­tion at major air­ports were scrapped in 2012 after an invest­ment of £4.9 mil­lion. Intro­duced in 2004, the elec­tron­ic gates and iris scan­ners were hailed as a ‘water­tight’ sys­tem for cut­ting fraud and wait­ing times. The tech­nol­o­gy, how­ev­er, was unre­li­able and pas­sen­gers were forced to wait far longer than if they’d sim­ply queued for an immi­gra­tion officer.

It may be prompt­ed in part by sci-fi films or may even run a lit­tle deep­er,” Dr Mur­doch says. “In Japan, for instance, ATMs use palm scan­ning tech­nol­o­gy, which read the unique pat­tern of veins in the palm of each cus­tomer. That’s great in a cul­ture that’s very con­cerned about hygiene and would pre­fer not to touch a machine that oth­er peo­ple have used all day long.”

Bio­met­rics have become about con­ve­nience rather than just secu­ri­ty, which is speed­ing up acceptance

While iris-scan­ning is cur­rent­ly on hold almost every­where apart from the Mex­i­can city of Leon, which installed scan­ners for every­thing from cash machines to pay­ing bus fares back in 2010, oth­er bio­met­ric mea­sures are already with us.

Indeed, a recent study by Tech­Sci Research fore­cast annu­al growth rates of 14 per cent in the bio­met­rics mar­ket, which should reach $21 bil­lion (£13.5 bil­lion) by 2020. “The demand for bio­met­ric sys­tems is increas­ing at a much high­er rate in coun­tries such as Chi­na, India, Japan and Indone­sia when com­pared with the Unit­ed States and Cana­da, due to increas­ing focus on iden­ti­ty man­age­ment and curb­ing secu­ri­ty breach­es,” says Tech­Sci ana­lyst Kalpana Ver­ma. What’s changed”

The great­est advance in bio­met­rics is the iPhone 6,” argues Ramesh Kesanu­pal­li, who heads up the FIDO Alliance, an indus­try-wide lob­by­ing group hop­ing to estab­lish Blue­tooth for bio­met­rics as an indus­try stan­dard for bio­met­ric recog­ni­tion software.

Apple’s fin­ger­print recog­ni­tion is on the home but­ton – the but­ton most users hit many times a day. It’s meant bio­met­rics have become about con­ve­nience rather than just secu­ri­ty, which is speed­ing up accep­tance. It also sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduces fraud as appli­ca­tions can send out small chal­lenges to the user any­time and get a con­fir­ma­tion that the phone hasn’t been stolen.”

Emilio Mar­tinez, chief exec­u­tive of Madrid-based bio­met­rics com­pa­ny AGNI­TiO, says: “Bio­met­rics always start with law enforce­ment. Fin­ger­prints took 100 years to reach the pri­vate sec­tor. Now things are speed­ing up.”Biometrics-sensors-market

AGNITiO’s voice bio­met­ric tech­nol­o­gy has been in use by police forces across Europe since its launch in 2004. “When you speak to some­one you’re lis­ten­ing to their words, to their accent, to the emo­tion in their voice – our sys­tems do none of that,” Mr Mar­tinez explains. “We mea­sure six fac­tors, from lar­ynx to nose to sinus­es, which con­tribute to cre­at­ing the sound wave that can’t be hid­den by rais­ing pitch and that’s unique to each individual.”

The soft­ware is now used to iden­ti­fy any­thing from phone threat callers to your voice when you phone a call centre.

For the future, law enforce­ments cur­rent key tar­get is speed­ing up a full DNA scan, in the­o­ry an impos­si­ble test to fake or get wrong. Oper­at­ing in the field at the moment, the US FBI is test­ing the Rapid­HIT 200, which can run a DNA scan in 90 min­utes. The Bureau’s rapid DNA analy­sis pro­gramme aims to devel­op “com­mer­cial instru­ments capa­ble of pro­duc­ing a DNA pro­file to search unsolved crimes while an arrestee is in police cus­tody dur­ing the book­ing process”.

Oth­er sys­tems being tri­aled include:

  • Ear scans – the curved edge around your ears is pecu­liar to you and researchers in New Del­hi are work­ing on an accu­rate and com­mer­cial­ly afford­able option
  • Heart­beat, breath­ing and move­ment – the US Army’s STORM has deployed in Afghanistan to iden­ti­fy tar­gets at a distance
  • Scent – the US Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty is research­ing odour sig­na­tures to see if indi­vid­u­als have a unique pri­ma­ry smell linked to our genet­ic coding
  • Gait – the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency employed gait analy­sis as a cor­ner­stone of its Total Infor­ma­tion sys­tem, despite the ease with which gait can be changed by sim­ple fac­tors such as shoes and heavy backpacks.

How long will it take for these sys­tems to reach, say, the finan­cial ser­vices indus­try? “If you’re ask­ing about a con­cert­ed indus­try-wide change from some­thing like chip and PIN, then we’re look­ing at years – cer­tain­ly more than five years,” accord­ing to UCL’s Dr Mur­doch. “On the oth­er hand, some banks are already using Apple’s fin­ger­print ID in their apps, so all it takes is one play­er to switch and that could take as lit­tle as a year.

The main dri­ver for suc­cess will be sim­plic­i­ty and ease of use – peo­ple just don’t want their secu­ri­ty checks to get more complicated.”
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