Biometrics: New IDs that are uniquely you

September 16, 2014 - Law Enforcement - Justice, Science, Technology
Biometrics: New IDs that are uniquely you
Forget fingerprints: In the near future eyebrows or heartbeats may become your new IDs by Sharon Oosthoek , 8:57am, August 7, 2014

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On April 18, 2013, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released blurry photos of two suspects at the scene of the Boston Marathon bombing. Marios Savvides and his team quickly tried to identify them.

Savvides works at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., as a scientist specializing in pattern recognition and signal processing. He creates special software that can identify people in digital images. As he and his fellow experts began sifting through the FBI pictures, they faced a challenge. Even the best picture of one of the suspects “was extremely low-resolution,” Savvides recalls. “It was blurred, off-angle and he was wearing a hat.”

Still, the team worked through the night. Using their experimental face-recognition software, they enhanced the photo. In the morning, they sent it off to the FBI. By that time, law enforcement already had identified the two suspects. “Still, after the fact, we saw our reconstruction was pretty darn good,” Savvides says.

Today, he is working to make the software even better. To do this, he and his team are using something called biometrics. It’s a relatively new field of technology, Savvides notes. The name explains it all: “Bio means life,” he says. “Metrics is about measuring.” So biometrics measures features or characteristics — individually or in combination — that are unique to some person. No one else will share exactly the same features.

Fingerprints probably represent the best-known example of a feature useful in biometrics. Others include the iris (the colored muscle in the eye) and the face. Biometrics engineers are looking to find still more. Any feature of the body with a unique shape, size, texture or pattern — and that can be read by biometric technologies — potentially can be used to identify someone.

Rapidly and accurately identifying people is useful. The police sometimes use biometric technology to ID criminals, disaster victims and missing children. Bank tellers may use biometrics to verify the identity of anyone attempting to withdraw money from an account. Because of the usefulness of biometric technology, governments are starting to include fingerprint and other biometric data in driver’s licenses, ID cards and passports.

Research on biometrics is advancing rapidly. Here we meet researchers behind three teams developing new ways to ID people. Their work is leading to the creation of electronic devices and security systems that one day may recognize us almost instantly and effortlessly.

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