Technology 3 min read

Biometric Tool Uses Ear Canal's Geometry To Unlock Smartphones

Researchers developed a new biometric tool that uses the uniqe structure of the ear canal and sound waves to authenticate a person's identity.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Smartphones have evolved over the years, and it’s thanks to advancements in various areas. Not only are the processors and displays better, but the biometric tool is now state-of-the-art.

Gone are the days when we depended on passwords alone to secure our device. Now there’s the iPhone‘s FaceID,  the Galaxy Note’s ultrasonic fingerprint reader, and LG G8 ThinQ‘s vein recognition technology.

Now a computer scientist at the University of Buffalo, Zhanpeng Jin has modified an old technology to create a new biometric tool

Jin, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said:

“We have so many students walking around with speakers in their ears. It led me to wonder what else we could do with them.”

That curiosity led to the invention of new wireless earbuds tool that uses the ear canal‘s unique geometry to authenticate smartphone users. In other words, you’ll be able to unlock your device by simply plugging a pair of earbuds into your ears.

The researchers are calling the new wearable EarEcho.

How Does EarEcho Work?

When sound enters our ears, it propagates through until the ear canal reflects and absorbs it. This process generates a unique signature that a microphone can capture.

Jin noted:

“It doesn’t matter what the sound is, everyone’s ears are different, and we can show that in the audio recording. This uniqueness can lead to a new way of confirming the identity of the user, equivalent to fingerprinting.”

And that was what the researchers did – create a device that could use sound waves to confirm the user’s identity. Jin and his team collected off-the-shelf products such as a microphone and a pair of in-ear earphones to create a prototype.

Along with acoustic signal processing techniques to limit noise interference, the researchers also developed models to share information between EarEcho’s components. The microphone collects data and sends it to a smartphone via a Bluetooth connection.

Now came the test. For this part, the team asked 20 participants to use the invention in different environments – home, shopping malls, schools, etc.

According to the researchers, EarEcho was 95 percent effective when given one second to authenticate a participant. However, the score improved to 97.5 percent when the biometric tool monitored the participant for 3 seconds.

What the New Biometric Tool Means

In theory, EarEcho offers a way to unlock smartphones similar to face unlock technology and fingerprint. But unlike the current biometric system, EarEcho is passive, says Jin.

That means users listening to their earbuds wouldn’t have to take any action, such as submitting a face or fingerprint to make it work.

“Think about that,” says Jin, “just by wearing the earphones, which many people already do, you wouldn’t have to do anything to unlock your phone.

Read More: Facial Recognition Unlock For Cars: To Be or Not To Be?

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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