Tuesday, 23 August 2016 21:25

Wearable tech and biometrics the way of the future: Unisys


Law enforcement is expected to lead the way in the incorporation of biometrics into wearable technology as concerns mount about privacy issues with data stored in the cloud.

New research from Unisys reveals that, as biometrics adoption becomes more mainstream, it raises issues of privacy at a time when 63% of biometric professionals surveyed say that enabling law enforcement and security officers to identify known or suspected criminals or terrorists is the most appropriate opportunity to incorporate biometrics into wearable technology.

There is, however, far less support for consumers using smart watches to authenticate payments (19%) or using biometrics to control access to data captured by wearable devices (14%).

The survey of 54 biometrics professionals was conducted by Unisys at the Biometric Institute Asia Pacific Conference held in Sydney in May.

“While biometrics have become cheaper, more accurate, and easier to use, the lack of revolutionary change in capture technology has constrained both the types of applications that employ biometrics and types of biometrics used in those applications,” says John Kendall, director border and national security programmes, Unisys.

“But the emergence of wearable technologies has the potential to turn the application of biometrics on its head!” Kendall notes.

On the use of biometrics in law enforcement, he says body worn cameras that clip onto uniforms like a badge are already being used by law enforcement agencies globally to identify people of interest by matching against a watch list and notifying the wearer via a smart phone or discreet Bluetooth earpiece.

Respondents also say facial recognition is the most appropriate biometric modality for wearable technology, followed by voice identification – and wristbands (52%), watches (19%) and lapel badges (15%) are the wearable formats best suited for biometrics.

“Many traditional biometric modalities, such as finger, face, iris and voice, can be readily applied to wearable formats. Fingerprint authentication is already accepted on smartphones and could be applied to watches and wristbands via fingerprint swipe sensors. Similarly, as many wearables already incorporate cameras, facial recognition is a logical choice for smart glasses and body worn cameras,” Kendall says.

As the research also reveals, privacy concerns regarding access to biometric information stored on the cloud are cited as the most significant roadblock to incorporating biometrics into wearable technology (79%), while technology, format and cost are not generally viewed as impediments.

“As with most security measures, communication about how information is obtained, used and secured, for what purpose and for whose benefit, is key to gaining public acceptance,” Kendall says.

“While there was some initial pushback against early smart glasses using facial recognition in consumer products, Unisys research has found the public will support facial recognition technology used by police and border security officers so we can expect to see these formats re-emerge in law enforcement applications.”

According to Kendall, however, the really exciting future is in radically new biosensors that will “transcend the limitation of today’s ‘smart accessories’ to enable practical applications for an entirely new class of non-traditional biometrics”.

“These include smart clothing — from underwear to shirts and jackets that has conductive threads to enable the detection, transmission and protection of electrical signals, effectively turning the clothing into a sensor,” Kendall explains.

“In the future, multiple sensors in clothing and other wearable formats will communicate with each other via the Internet to create a Wireless Body Area Network (WBAN) enabling the measurement of emerging biometrics such as electrical activity in brainwaves (electroencephalogram or EEG) or electrical activity in the heart (electrodiogram or ECG).

“Embedded biosensors placed directly on or under the body surface are another key development. While these are used for monitoring medical conditions, there are already patent applications for smart contact lenses with a display that can project images straight into the user's eye. The possibilities are amazing!” explains Kendall.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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