When your smartphone can recognize your ear

April 29, 2015 09:22
Yahoo's Bodyprint system can identify a smartphone user from the shape of the ear. Photo: Yahoo Labs

Fingerprint scanners are becoming popular as a way of unlocking a smartphone, but they are costly and restricted to high-end models.

Now Yahoo has found a quicker, cheaper way to recognize a mobile phone's owner -- by scanning an ear with the touchscreen instead of needing a password or fingerprint to unlock the phone.

The system, developed at Yahoo Labs, is dubbed Bodyprint and has had initial trials with 12 participants, BBC News reported.

"Due to their cost, capacitive fingerprint scanners have been limited to top-of-the-line phones, a result of the required resolution and quality of the sensor," the Yahoo  team said on its website.

While the input resolution of a touchscreen is relatively low, "the surface area is large, allowing the touch sensor to scan users' body parts, such as ears, fingers, fists and palms by pressing them against the display", it said.

Bodyprint identified body parts with 99.98 percent accuracy and users with 99.5 percent accuracy. Scanning ears achieved a 99.8 percent accuracy rate, the team said.

Biometrics expert Professor Angela Sasse of University College London's department of computer science thinks such a system could have a future.

It is not the first time ears have been used as a method of identification, she said.

In Switzerland, such methods are used at the scene of a robbery.

"Burglars tend to listen on the windowpane to see if anyone is home," Sasse said.

Police then take a print of the ear, like a fingerprint.

One benefit of an ear-based identification system is that it offers greater privacy than facial recognition, she told the BBC.

Fingerprint scanners, popular on the latest iPhone models and on some Android handsets, have proved to be vulnerable to hackers.

In April, security firm FireEye reported how hackers could take copies of fingerprints used to unlock the Samsung Galaxy S5 phone.

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