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This 3D fingerprint sensor uses ultrasound scanning to hold your data tight

Qualcomm often comes up with wild ideas, and while some of them never make it to prime time, a few gems do appear on next-generation smartphones with Qualcomm processors. The latest futuristic feat from the company is Sense ID, a new technology that uses ultrasound to read your fingerprint with greater accuracy and security than any other fingerprint sensor on the market.

Ultrasound reads deep into your fingerprint

Sense ID is so inconspicuous that it isn’t visible at all. Qualcomm’s found a way to hide the ultrasound sensor in any of the most commonly used materials in smartphone design: aluminum, glass, and plastic. That means there’s no need for a Home button or even a bezel — manufacturers could simply embed an ultrasound sensor in the middle of the screen underneath the glass, on on the back beneath the plastic or metal casing.

Since the ultrasound detects deep into your skin, it can actually sense whether the fingerprint in use is attached to a living person.

Although the thickness of the material will decrease the detail read from a fingerprint, the sensor should still be able to get an accurate reading from most devices. The ultrasound sensor actually penetrates the outer layers of your skin to see inside the ridges and specific characteristics that make up your fingerprint. It can even see the sides of the ridges as well as your skin’s sweat pores in intimate detail. That may not sound too appealing, but for a sensor, it’s pretty amazing. Qualcomm says Sense ID not only offers up greater detail and therefore superior security than any other fingerprint sensor, it also is harder to fool.

Since the ultrasound detects deep into your skin, it can actually sense whether the fingerprint in use is attached to a living person. The technology detects the motion of blood flow under your skin, alerting the software that the fingerprint is indeed real and a part of a living person. Neither glue molds nor hacked-off thumbs from gangster movies can fool Qualcomm’s Sense ID. To top it all off, the sensor isn’t bothered by sweaty hands, lotion, or lightly wet fingers. It’s readings are deep enough to see beyond all that superficial stuff.

There’s a lot of security and technology behind it

To make its technology more readily available, Qualcomm’s partnered with the FIDO Alliance and the IBIA (International Biometric Industry Association). Although Sense ID uses Qualcomm’s own special technology — of course — it owes the ultrasonic technology to Nok Nok Labs’ S3 Authentication Suite.

Qualcomm Sense ID 6
Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends

Sense ID will theoretically be used to open your smartphone, make payments, log into apps, and essentially eliminate passwords. Worried about where that fingerprint data may go? Yeah, we are too. But Qualcomm assured us that it’s stored locally on the Snapdragon 810 processor in a special, dedicated space that’s heavily secured. Sense ID 3D Fingerprint Technology (that’s its full name) includes the Qualcomm biometric integrated circuit (QBIC), sensor tech, and algorithms controlled by SecureMSM.

Sense ID is coming to phones soon

Although it will work only on devices using the Snapdragon 810 processor at first, it will also work with the upcoming 425 processor, and later, the Snapdragon 400 series, 600 series, and 800 series of chips. Luckily, Sense ID isn’t one of those ethereal, Qualcomm pipe dreams — it’s actually coming to a smartphone near you, and soon! Qualcomm Snapdragon Sense ID 3D Fingerprint Technology should arrive on devices in the second half of 2015. The company’s already sampling it out to manufacturers, and some big names have committed to using it.

There’s no word on who those bigwigs are or how much the technology will jack up the price of phones, so we’ll have to wait it out a bit longer. We’ll keep you updated.

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Malarie Gokey
Former Digital Trends Contributor
As DT's Mobile Editor, Malarie runs the Mobile and Wearables sections, which cover smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and…
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