On a planet-hosting 6.7 billion human beings, having proof you’re unique is of tantamount importance. The ear, it turns out, maybe the best identification yet. Enter the ear print. Developed by US-based technology firm Descartes Bio-metrics, it works like this: Firstly, the user downloads the ERGO software onto their smartphone.
The user lifts the device to the side of their head and presses the center of the touch screen on their ear. A sound is then sent into the ear, and due to the “unique geometry of the ear,” the sound that is echoed back is specific to each individual.
The iPhone, the Galaxy S6, and a few other high price smartphones have fingerprint sensors for extra security and authorization of payments. but the tech is expensive and therefore hasn’t reached the mainstream, lower cost devices yet. A team of researchers at Yahoo Labs have developed Body print, a biometric authentication system which uses your phone’s touchscreen as the scanner. Only it’s not for fingerprints, it’s for ears.
The earmarks are usual evidence in many real criminal investigations. The ear print appears for example when a criminal tries to listen through a window or a door before entering, and the methods to make it visible are similar to those used in latent fingerprint lifting. However, its acceptance as evidence in real prosecutions still raises doubts. Although it is well-accepted the uniqueness of the ear and its usefulness for person identification, the permanence of such discriminate ability in ear prints is not obvious. Although the ear prints do not have a powerful distinctiveness information, they are useful in a bag of evidence, being a promising soft bio-metric.
The team demonstrates Body print using a Nexus 5 smartphone. In the accompanying video, holding the phone up to answer a call will activate Body print, which will unlock and connect only if the ear print matches the phone’s owner. Additionally, a dual fist unlock procedure is shown for securing files meaning secret documents can only be opened and viewed when both parties are present.
Fingerprint databases of U.S. government agencies alone store the records of more than 100 million people, but prints can rub off or callous over during hard or repetitive labor. With the advent of computer vision, researchers and identification industries are seeking easier and more robust bio-metrics to get their hands on
“When you’re born your ear is fully formed. The lobe descends a little, but overall it stays the same. It’s a great way to identify people,”
said Mark Nixon, a computer scientist at the University of Southampton.
Why can’t Body print be used to scan fingerprints? This is the downside of using the screen the image sensor just doesn’t have the resolution to capture enough detail to be used for fingerprint identification. The large area makes up for the loss in overall image quality, and in addition to recognizing ears, Body print also looks at palm and finger grip position, a fist, and the phalanges of a hand.
At the moment, Body print is a research project and not something ready to be integrated into our smartphones. However, it proves the potential is there for the future, and bio-metric scanning doesn’t have to be limited to the most expensive devices.
To address the limitations of the approach, the team is looking to demonstrate that ears do hold up over time. In addition, the researchers hope to pair their new bio-metric with other computer-vision technologies, such as face recognition, to bolster its reliability. And if the algorithm can be made to work quickly in three dimensions, a fuzzy clip of a criminal walking by a security camera could be turned into grade-A courtroom evidence.
“We’ve shown we can use ears, but can we process data that comes from a sort of normal scenario? That’s the real challenge,” Nixon said.