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Forget Face ID! Next-gen biometrics will listen to the sound of your bones


From established biometric identification techniques like fingerprints or facial recognition to weirder, more experimental ones like users’ unique “heartprint” or even the shape of their butts, there are plenty of high tech ways technology can be used to confirm that a person is who they say they are. Now researchers from South Korea have added one more to the mix — and it’s a doozy.

In a new study published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Cybernetics, researchers from the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) describe how sound waves passing through a person’s body can be used to provide a positive ID. Using bioacoustic modeling, it’s possible to identify someone based on metrics like the stiffness of their joints, their skin, or the weight of their bones. That’s something that’s pretty darn hard to fake.

“We can think of our body as a musical instrument that has a unique shape and composition of materials,” Joo Yong, one of the ETRI researchers on the project, told Digital Trends. “Our technology evaluates these traits of our body by vibrating a certain body part — for example, a hand — and hear[ing] the propagating sound as we alter the frequency of excitation. Our system is sophisticated enough to extract the features of our body as a proxy of a user’s anatomical and biomaterial properties and differentiate the individual with high accuracy.”


The technology is currently being tested on more than 50 subjects. While it’s still too early for conclusive large-scale results, Yong said that the performance of the technique so far is similar to that of state-of-the-art fingerprint and iris biometrics.

“In current biometrics — such as fingerprint, iris, and face recognition — one can make fake copies for spoofing because they rely on the structural features of the acquired image, and therefore once a template is stolen it can be a permanent threat to spoofing,” Yong said. “Our method uses characteristics inside the body and extracts information in the frequency domain, which creates a new level of security and makes it useful for applications that require a high level of security.”

In addition, Yong said that the approach could be useful for providing seamless identification. Rather than asking the user to place a body part on or in front of a biometric sensor, this approach could carry out a continuous assessment of users. As Internet of Things devices continue to proliferate, offering us personalized services, this may prove to a particularly useful aspect of the technology.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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