The authentication process on smartphones has evolved over the years. What started as passwords, changed to fingerprint and facial recognition subsequently.
Now researchers have invented a new biometric authentication technique that involves unlocking your smartphone using in-ear earbuds.
Zhanpeng Jin, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at University at Buffalo, and his team has invented EarEcho. It is a biometric tool that uses wireless earbuds to authenticate users by analyzing the unique geometry of their ear canal.
Mr. Jin described the working of EarEcho in Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies, a journal published by the Association for Computing Machinery. He found the prototype to be 95% effective in unlocking users’ smartphones.
How Does EarEcho Works?
To build the prototype, the researchers used modified in-ear earphones and a small mic. EarEcho works on the principle that when a sound is played in a human being’s ear, it propagates, reflects, and gets absorbed by the ear canal. This process produces unique audio signatures which can be recorded by the microphone.
The researchers developed acoustic signal processing techniques to weed out the noise and other interferences. They also developed models to transfer information between the different components of EarEcho.
According to Mr. Jin, “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.”
The information captured by the mic is sent to the smartphone via Bluetooth that connects the earbuds to it and is analyzed by the phone to authenticate a person.
To evaluate the performance of the prototype, the researchers tested it on 20 subjects using different audio samples, including a variety of speech, songs, and other audio content.
To further complicate it, they also used the prototype in different environmental conditions with external noise interference like a busy street. It was found that EarEcho was successful in unlocking smartphones in 95% of cases. The device worked flawlessly even when the user was sitting, standing, or in a different position.
EarEcho took 1 second to authenticate the user, and the success rate reached 97.5% when the process of authentication prolonged to 3 seconds.
UB’s Technology Transfer Office has applied an application to patent the technology.
Applications Of EarEcho
It is a passive system which means users do not need to perform any action like swiping on the screen or inputting a voice command for authentication.
Still, it doesn’t seem to be much practical in comparison to existing methods. Chances are less someone would wear a pair of earphones all the time.
Anyway, besides unlocking smartphones, EarEcho, according to Mr. Jin, could be useful in situations where continuous monitoring of users is required. The technique could be useful in conducting payments through smartphones as users’ won’t require entering passcodes or registering their fingerprint.