'Biometric earbuds' can unlock your phone

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You have no doubt unlocked your smartphone with your finger, and on newer phones maybe even your face too – but how about your ears?

Researchers have been working on tech they believe could make Ear ID the new Face ID, with modified earbuds that use sound waves to identify the unique geometry of the ear canal.

The gadget, tentatively dubbed EarEcho, was developed at the University at Buffalo in New York after an engineering and computer science professor theorised there was more to be done with the ubiquitous earbuds.

Image: EarEcho uses modified wireless earbuds to authenticate smartphone users via the unique geometry of their ear canal. Pic: University at Buffalo

“We have so many students walking around with speakers in their ears,” said Professor Zhangpeng Jin.

“It led me to wonder what else we could do with them.”

His team built a prototype using off-the-shelf products, including a pair of in-ear earphones and a tiny microphone, and developed their own techniques to limit noise interference.

This means that when a sound is played into the ear, it can be clearly reflected and absorbed by the canal to produce a unique signature that can be recorded by the microphone.

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Once the microphone has gathered the necessary information, it is transferred to the smartphone via Bluetooth and analysed in a similar fashion to other biometric data stored by modern handsets.

Tests that used audio samples of speech and music, carried out across settings from street corners to shopping centres, returned success rates of 95% to 97.5% and led the university to file a provisional patent application.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY SOREN BILLING: This photo illustration shows a woman as she uses the iPhone application of Swedish music streaming service Spotify on March 7, 2013 in Stockholm, Sweden. Sweden is at the forefront of a global recovery in music sales driven by streaming music services such as Spotify. AFP PHOTO/JONATHAN NACKSTRAND (Photo credit should read JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Image: Older iPhones use the home button to verify fingerprints

Professor Jin said the gadget could prove extremely popular if it makes it to market, arguing that it is more convenient than existing biometric solutions.

He explained: “Just by wearing the earphones, which many people already do, you wouldn’t have to do anything to unlock your phone.”

The prototype is detailed in the journal Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies.

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