Ear Canal Could Be Next Biometric Key


Forget the fingerprint: NEC believes the ear canal could be the secret to biometric identification. It says the system could improve security on confidential phone calls.

The company isn’t the first to turn to the ear as a way of confirming identity. Last year Yahoo tested the idea of using phone touchscreens to capture an earprint as a quick and simple way to confirm identity.

NEC believes its ear canal method could be more accurate and harder to spoof than existing technologies. Its idea is to use earbuds that also contain microphones. The security check would involve piping out a test sound and then measuring the feedback. The idea is that everybody’s ear canal is a different shape and thus has a unique “echo.”

For increased accuracy, the system could use two different types of tone, one which passes through the eardrum and one which doesn’t.

The company hasn’t announced any details of its testing, but says the system takes less than a second and works with “greater than 99 percent accuracy.” Whether that’s sufficient may depend on security needs, and the breakdown of false positives and false negatives would also be important.

While there’s clearly scope to use this as a biometric login for devices such as phones and computers, NEC believes the main commercial opportunity will be for confirming identity on confidential phone calls and in voice guidance systems. It’s hoping to commercialize the technology by 2018.

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