Two feet beat one password every time, researchers believe

Researchers are focusing on the feet to develop a new biometric system that proves identity and can help detect certain diseases.
Written by John Fontana, Contributor

Biometrics to define identity have tapped hands, fingers, eyes, voice and other distinct human characteristics, but now researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are looking at your sole.

Actually, researchers along with Autonomous ID, a Canadian vendor with a product called BioSole, are fixated on the feet, how they move a person and how that movement can be used to prove identity.

Todd Gray, chairman and president of Autonomous ID, says BioSole, which has been in the works for three years, can identify a user in as little as three steps. The input device is a thin insole inserted in the user’s shoe. The work with CMU will broaden the test base Autonomous ID has already been working with.

The duo is working on tests of the insole sensory system that monitors foot movement not only for identity but to detect other important, and potentially life-saving, data such as the onset of diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

The research is being done at CMU’s new Pedo-Biometrics Research and Identity Automation Lab, which is headed by Marios Savvides, an electrical and computer engineering professor.

Savvides is no stranger to biometrics. He is founder and director of CMU’s CyLab Biometrics Center, which is working on such projects as Iris Recognition, 3D Face Reconstruction from 2D Images, and Facial Pose Correction.

Savvides also is working to simplify biometric algorithms so they can be implemented on small form-factor devices such as PDAs and mobile phones.

The notion behind the research on human gait is that mimicking the movement is nearly impossible, therefore a trusted attribute of identity.

In addition, unlike hands and fingers, movement is not something that can be removed from a person for use with biometric readers.

Savvides and his colleague Vijayakumar Bhagavatula are working with Vladimir Polotski, the chief science and technology officer of Autonomous ID.

The trio says pedo-biometrics can be used in medical diagnosis, forensic science, privacy, security and automation.

For example, a person walking up to a locked door could be identified and the door unlocked when they arrive.  A person’s gait information can be stored in the cloud and accessed via remote readers.

Gray says CMU provides needed research and development for field trials.

The study of gait as a means of identity is not new. In 2000, Georgia Tech University was working in conjunction with DARPA’s HumanID at a Distance program on technology for screening people. They studied stride and collected data such as distance between head and foot, head and pelvis and foot and pelvis for both the left and right foot.

The goal was to be able to identify people in a crowd or group, such as workers on an airport tarmac. The technology could pick out someone who was not suppose to be there.

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