New York Universities Pave the Way to Ear Canal User Authentication

By Bill Toulas / September 23, 2019

A recent study signed by six researchers from the University at Buffalo and Syracuse University presents a new method of biometric authentication using the ear canal. Calling the device, which is basically a pair of wireless earbuds “EarEcho”, it is based on the transmission of acoustic waves and the capturing of what bounces back from the ear canal. This enables the device to generate a profile of the user’s inner ear geometry, which is unique to each person. The EarEcho feeds the audio capture to a “support vector machine” (SVM) unit which undertakes the role of identifying various users with an experimental accuracy of 97.5%.

The researchers have tested the system on twenty subjects, while the above success rate is based on the use of three-second audio snippets that are used for the authentication. The recall rate was 94.2%, and one-time precision was about 95.2%. According to the report, EarEcho is capable of ignoring random factors such as varying background noise, body motions, and sound pressure levels. This is mainly due to the fact that when the bud is placed onto the user’s ear, there aren’t many elements that can introduce “noise” inside the ear canal.

This comes in contrast with fingerprints, for example, as many sensors will refuse to authenticate a registered user if the finger is dirty, moist, etc. For those who wear earphones, especially those comfortable wireless buds, this type of biometric could be a hard-liberator. Are ears a safe biometric to use on our smartphones, or any other application? According to a paper that was published during the 2010 IEEE Conference on Biometrics, the ear is probably the most unique biological feature that can characterize and differentiate a human being. While this is true for the outer ear, we’re not sure about the uniqueness of the ear canal, the level of its variations, and the precision sensitivity of EarEcho. The results from the first limited study are encouraging, but 20 test subjects is a very small number.

The researchers are currently working feverishly on improving the existing EarEcho system, as they see excellent commercialization potential in it. We’re still far from a large smartphone manufacturer announcing such a biometric authentication unit, but at this point, the scenario doesn’t sound far-fetched at all.

Do you see a future in EarEcho-based user authentication systems? Let us know what you think in the comments down below, or join the discussion on our socials, on Facebook and Twitter.

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