Researchers at Yahoo Labs have figured out how to unlock smartphones by scanning your ear.
The technology is called Bodyprint, according to a blog post on the team’s website, and it uses a smartphone’s capacitive touchscreen to sense and “scan” your ear when you press it against the device, which then generates an image that can be used to identify the user and unlock the phone.
Yahoo Labs has also managed to get Bodyprint to work with other parts of the body including fists, knuckles, fingers, and palms, again using the smartphone’s touchscreen display to create a low-resolution image unique to each user. This could then be used to lock and unlock files.
Here’s what the technology looks like in action.
The most compelling use case for Bodyprint seems to be using your ear to unlock your phone, however, as people already hold their phone at least partially against their ear when talking.
Below you can see what the relatively short authentication process looks like, which requires your full ear to be pressed against the phone’s display before being free to talk.
While most high-end smartphones like the iPhone 6 or the Samsung Galaxy S6 already include fingerprint-scanning technology, Yahoo Labs thinks Bodyprint could be used as a cheaper alternative in smartphones, since no additional sensors are needed since it utilises the device’s touchscreen instead.
Modern fingerprint sensors have an incredibly high resolution, and while using a smartphone’s touchscreen as a sensor instead leads to a lower-resolution image, the Yahoo Labs team says it’s still plenty accurate.
“Bodyprint compensates for the low input resolution with an increased false rejection rate, but does not compromise on authentication precision,” the team wrote. “In our evaluation with 12 participants, Bodyprint classified body parts with 99.98% accuracy and identifies users with 99.52% accuracy with a false rejection rate of 26.82% to prevent false positives.”
There’s no telling if or when Bodyprint technology will find its way onto mobile phones, but it would be an incredibly clever and cost-effective way to bring bio-identification to more mobile phones.