Your next phone could unlock by reading your lips, ears, or even heart

alternative biometric security systems photo of a young woman holding her smartphone in bed
Who has time in today’s busy world to punch in written pass codes whenever they want to unlock their computer or mobile device? Nobody, that’s who! It’s for this reason that biometric security systems have been on the rise for the past several years — whether it’s fingerprint sensors or Face ID-style facial recognition. Not only are biometrics more secure (it’s a whole lot harder for someone to steal your face than your password), but there’s also no way for you to forget them.

However, while fingerprints and facial recognition are the hot biometric techniques right now, they’re by no means the only solutions available. Here are 7 others that could be keeping our devices secure in the years to come. Maybe.

A moment on the lips

alternative biometric security systems lips lightstargod biometrics

Spoken passwords are all well and good until someone makes a recording of you speaking, or a talented impressionist impersonates you. One extra safeguard to make sure that the pass code speaker is really you? Watch a person’s lips as they speak it.

Researchers have explored a couple different ways to do this. At Hong Kong Baptist University, engineers have developed a computational learning model that examines the visual features of a person’s lips, including shape, texture, and movement.

Meanwhile, at Florida State University in Tallahassee, a similar goal is being pursued using sonar. Called VoiceGesture, the Florida State system effectively turns your smartphone into a Doppler radar, transmitting a high-frequency sound from the device’s speaker and then listening to the reflections on the microphone when a person says their password.

Both approaches can offer an extra level of protection on top of existing voice biometrics.

It’s not what you said, but how you said it

vauth voice id 1
University of Michigan
University of Michigan

Another possible solution to voice biometric spoofing is one pioneered by researchers at the University of Michigan. They’ve developed a wearable device — which currently takes the form of a necklace, ear buds, or glasses — and uses an accelerometer to measure the subtle skin vibrations in a person’s face, throat, or chest when they speak.

Finding a way of incorporating it into a consumer-level device may be tough, but it could certainly add another level of security to voice-based biometrics.

It’s all in your “heartprint”

biometric heartprint password feat

You know those cheesy 1980s movies where a character is told that the way to resolve their angsty teen problem is to listen to their heart? Well, it turns out that the same is true for security — except substituting the words “angsty teen problem” with “biometrics spoofing attack.”

At the State University of New York at Buffalo, researchers have created a heart biometric system that uses Doppler radar (again) to find and receive information about the unique signature of a user’s heart motion and associated traits.

The system is reportedly as safe to use as any other Wi-Fi device, requires just 8 seconds of initial “heart data” to train, and — best of all — can be used for continuous authentication. That means that, rather than asking a user for their password just once when they log in, the system could continually watch to make sure it’s still you who is using it.

The sniff test

“Smells like you. Come on in!” At least, that’s the basis for research from the Group of Biometrics, Biosignals and Security at the Polytechnical University of Madrid. Their work is based on the fact that everyone has his or her own odor, which remains steady, and this can lead to accurate identification of a person within a group that’s higher than 85 percent.

In theory, a bloodhound-style body odor “sniff test” to ID individuals could be a nonintrusive way to recognize individuals. In practice, a 15 percent error rate would be unacceptably high (compare it to Apple’s reported 1 in 1 million error rate for Face ID) and may be hard to gather in certain environmental conditions. This could turn out to be the basis for promising later research, though.

Butt-based biometrics

alternative biometric security systems sensors butt

Unlocking your new smartphone using your unique butt print sounds like something that even Apple’s marketing wizards would struggle to sell to the masses. But that probably isn’t how this would be used. Pioneered by engineers at the Advanced Institute of Industrial Technology in Tokyo, the idea is to embed 360 sensors into car seats to analyze the, erm, size, shape, pressure points, and weight distribution of drivers’ posteriors.

Only those with the correct butt can start the car. That’s probably not good for heading back to work after gorging yourself over Christmas — but on the plus side, you could probably combine it with the smell sensor described above to make something hilariously gross.

Good vibrations

vibwrite biometric security vibwrite2

One issue with fingerprint sensors is that the actual “sensing” area they work with is typically limited to a small button on either the front or rear of a mobile device. That wouldn’t be the case with a similar finger-reading biometrics system developed by Rutgers University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Their VibWrite system isn’t based on fingerprint recognition, but rather the unique signatures given off by finger vibrations. As a result of not needing fingerprint scanners, the inexpensive system could be applied to any surface — letting you add an authentication element to everything from opening your car door to switching on your desktop computer. Accuracy levels are currently in excess of 95 percent.

What’s going on ear?

overexposure airborne ultrasound may making others sick ear

What’s the one part of our body that’s virtually guaranteed to be pressed against our phones at some point? No, take your mind out of the gutter, we’re talking about our ears! The idea of ear-based biometrics has been explored for some time, with the idea being that each ear’s unique curves and other features could make for a brilliant fingerprint-style security system.

It’s an intriguing prospect, although having to imprint the side of your head on your smartphone every time you want to unlock it would be more than a little annoying. It would enable your device to continuously authenticate that you’re using the phone whenever you make a call, though!

Emerging Tech

Your smartphone could be the key to predicting natural disasters

A challenge for atmospheric scientists is gathering enough data to understand the complex, planet-wide weather system. Now a scientist has come up with a clever idea to gather more data using smartphones and Internet of Things devices.

These are the best Pixel 3a XL cases and covers to protect your Google phone

If you want to change up the look or feel of your new Google phone, you want some decent drop protection, or both, then we have you covered with this list of the best Google Pixel 3a XL cases and covers.

Bored with your Snapchat username? Here's how to change it

We've all been there. You're setting up a new account and just type in whatever pops into your head as a username. Then, later on, you realize that was a mistake. Here's how to change your Snapchat username.
Home Theater

How to update the Kodi media center on all of your devices

Keeping Kodi updated with the latest version is important for accessing new features and improved security. But it's not always an automatic process. We'll walk you through the right way to update Kodi on all of your devices.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Florida’s autonomous vehicle law, E3 updates, and more

On this episode of DT Live, we take a look at the biggest trending stories in tech, including Florida allowing fully autonomous vehicles on the road, Atari’s new gaming system, E3 updates, high-speed rail, and more.
Emerging Tech

Got $400 million to burn? The world’s largest airplane is up for sale

Stratolaunch, the world's largest airplane, is up for sale. All it'll cost you is $400 million dollars. The brainchild of late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the plane was supposed to make space travel more accessible and affordable.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Plant-based shoes and a ukulele learning aid

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Ex astris, scientia: Star Trek logo spotted on the surface of Mars

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been boldly going to Mars and capturing images since 2005, and now it has spotted something where no man has gone before: a structure on the planet's surface which will look familiar to Trekkies.
Emerging Tech

Adobe develops tool to identify Photoshopped images of faces

With deepfake videos making headlines, and campaigns against the Photoshopping of models, people are more aware than ever of the digital manipulation of images. Now Adobe wants to give tools to users to let them spot faked images.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will pave the way for manned missions to Mars

Survival on Mars is a massive challenge for humanity. To cope with the highly variable temperatures, lack of oxygen and water, and high levels of radiation, the Mars 2020 rover will carry instruments to pave the way for human exploration.
Emerging Tech

Facebook builds virtual homes to train A.I. agents in realistic environments

Researchers at Facebook have created Habitat, which is a platform that enables rapid training for A.I. agents. They will receive thousands of hours of training in just a few minutes in the virtual homes.
Emerging Tech

Impossible Foods struggles to keep up with Impossible Burger demand

Red Robin and White Castle have reported Impossible Burger shortages, as it appears that Impossible Foods is struggling to keep up with demand. The company will be selling its meat-like patties in retail outlets within the year.
Emerging Tech

Pass the salt please: Table salt found on Jupiter’s moon Europa

Astronomers have spotted something unexpectedly familiar on the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa -- sodium chloride, better known as table salt. This suggests the under-ice oceans on Europa are salty and similar to our oceans on Earth.
Emerging Tech

Hubble captures explosive galaxy, the site of three recent supernovae

Hubble's latest image is of the spiral galaxy NGC 4051 which is notable for having played host to a large number of supernovae: the first seen in 1983 (SN 1983I), the second in 2003 (SN 2003ie), and the most recent in 2010 (SN 2010br).