The shape and size of the outside of individual ears is unique and been posited as a biometric identifier before, but in the future the ear canal might also serve as a means of identification and authentication. NEC Corporation, a Tokyo-based IT and network technologies firm, has developed a biometric technology that relies on the unique shape of human ear cavities.
“Since the shape and size of all ears are unique and different, NEC found that the acoustic features of the ear can be highly effective in identifying individuals,” says Shigeki Yamagata, general manager of Information and Media Processing Laboratories at NEC.
The technology – which doesn’t have a name yet – uses an earbud to measure individually unique acoustic characteristics. NEC says the process takes one second.
“An earphone with a built-in microphone is used to generate a few hundred milliseconds of acoustic signals from the earphone speaker and to receive the signals transmitted within the ear through the microphone,” Yamagata says. “A synchronous addition method – which adds and obtains the average of the waveforms of the multiple signals received – is used to eliminate noise from the received signals. It then calculates how the sound resonates within the ear.”
NEC says the accuracy rate for recognizing an individual is greater than 99%. “One of the primary areas we are seeking to contribute to is public safety,” Yamagata says. “For example, this could help to ensure the security of large scale events as well as the maintenance and management of important infrastructure…by ensuring that only authorized personnel can use communications equipment.”
Yamagata says this means of biometric authentication places only a slight burden on users who are already likely to be comfortable with using earbuds. He sees other advantages, too.
“NEC’s new earphone technologies can be easily implemented with mobile devices, including smartphones and transceivers,” Yamagata says, “And authorization can be continuously confirmed while users are on the move without being confined to the range of a camera.”
The company is tweaking the technology with plans to get it to market in 2018.