Biometric identification is a sensitive topic that has inspired public debate on how it may violate data privacy. Many people have noted that it’s easy to conceal or change facial features to fool facial scanning devices. However, a different biometric system has been discovered to guarantee contactless but more accurate identification: heartprints.
In 2017, a team of researchers from the University of Buffalo discovered a new cybersecurity system that uses radars to scan heart rate signatures. The Doppler radar sensor sends a wireless signal to the target person, and the signal bounces back with the target’s heart motion. These data points are known as heartprints, which can be used to identify individuals’ unique heartbeat patterns. Heartprints are safer than facial and fingerprint data because they are invisible, making it challenging for hackers to steal them.
When used as a log-in authentication method, heartprints can perform continual validation. For example, when the registered owner of a computer or smartphone exits, it is possible for them to log out and return automatically once their heartprints are detected by the system. The radar takes eight seconds to scan a heart for the first time and then can keep monitoring it by continually recognizing it. The technology has also been shown to be safer for humans, comparable to other Wi-Fi electronics that emit less than 1 percent of the radiation emitted by a regular smartphone. Researchers tested the system 78 times on different people, and the results were more than 98 percent accurate.
In 2020, the US military created a laser scan that can detect heartbeats from at least 200 meters away with about 95 percent accuracy. This development is particularly crucial for the US Department of Defense’s Special Operations Command (SOC), which handles covert military operations. A sniper planning to eliminate an enemy operative must ensure the right person is in their sights before firing. To do this, soldiers commonly use software that compares a suspect’s facial features or gait with those recorded in libraries of biometric data compiled by police and intelligence agencies. However, such technology can be ineffective against someone wearing a disguise, head covering, or even purposefully limping. Whereas, with distinct biometrics like heartprints, the military can be assured that there will be less room for misidentification.
The laser scanning system, called Jetson, can measure the minute vibrations in clothing caused by someone’s heartbeat. Since hearts have different shapes and contraction patterns, they are distinctive enough to confirm someone’s identity. Jetson uses a laser vibrometer to detect tiny changes in a laser beam reflected off an object of interest. Vibrometers have been used since the 1970s to study things like bridges, aircraft bodies, warship cannons, and wind turbines—searching for otherwise-invisible cracks, air pockets, and other dangerous defects in materials.
Applications and implications of heartprints
Wider applications and implications of heartprints may include:
- Public surveillance systems using heartprint scanning to identify potential healthcare concerns (e.g., heart attacks).
- Ethicists concerned about using heartprints for surveillance without consent.
- Public transportation and airports using heartprint scanning systems to check in individuals or report unusual activities automatically.
- Businesses using heartprint scanning to control access to buildings, vehicles, and equipment.
- Personal technological devices using heartprint scanning as passcodes.
Questions to comment on
- What are other potential risks or benefits of heartprints?
- How else might this biometric change the way you work and live?