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Biometrics and wearables views

Law enforcers and security officers may be at the front of use of biometrics in wearable technology, it’s suggested. However privacy concerns around the security of biometric data stored in the cloud need to be addressed as adoption becomes more mainstream. A survey of 54 biometrics professionals was conducted by the IT firm Unisys at the Biometrics Institute Asia Pacific Conference, in Sydney in May 2016.

John Kendall, director border and national security programs, Unisys said: “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. But the emergence of wearable technologies has the potential to turn the application of biometrics on its head.”

The majority of those surveyed, 63 percent, 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 – with far less support for consumers using smart watches to authenticate payments (19 percent) or using biometrics to control access to data captured by wearable devices (14 percent).

Kendall said: “Body worn cameras that clip onto uniforms like a badge, are already being used by law enforcement agencies globally to identify persons of interest by matching against a watch list and notifying the wearer via a smart phone or discreet Bluetooth earpiece.”

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


Wearable technology are devices or computers that can be worn on the body and typically have communications functionality, enabling data to be exchanged between a network and the device. Biometrics refers to a variety of technologies in which unique attributes of people are used for identification and authentication such as a fingerprint, iris print, hand, face, voice or gait.

Kendall said: “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.”

Privacy concerns regarding access to biometric information stored on the cloud is cited as the most significant roadblock to incorporating biometrics into wearables (79 percent). Technology, format and cost are not generally viewed as impediments.

Kendall said: “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. While there was some initial push-back 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.”

“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. 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 currently used for monitoring medical conditions there are already patent applications for smart contact lenses with a display that can project images straight into the users’ eye. The possibilities are amazing.”


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