Engineering Minute

Engineering Minute – Unlocking Your Cell Phone With Earbuds

Engineers at the University of Buffalo have developed a way to use earbuds to unlock a person's smartphone. In order to do this, the team developed a biometric tool dubbed EarEcho. It uses modified wireless earbuds to verify a person based on the unique structure of their ear canal. 

 

When a sound is played into someone’s ear, the sound propagates through and is reflected and absorbed by the ear canal — all of which produce a unique signature that can be recorded by a microphone attached to the earbud, which then sends the info via Bluetooth to the user's smartphone for verification.
When a sound is played into someone’s ear, the sound propagates through and is reflected and absorbed by the ear canal — all of which produce a unique signature that can be recorded by a microphone attached to the earbud, which then sends the info via Bluetooth to the user's smartphone for verification.
Credit: University at Buffalo.

“It doesn’t matter what the sound is, everyone’s ears are different and we can show that in the audio recording. This uniqueness can lead to a new way of confirming the identity of the user, equivalent to fingerprinting,” says PhD Zhanpeng Jin, associate professor at the University of Buffalo. “Think about that, just by wearing the earphones, which many people already do, you wouldn’t have to do anything to unlock your phone.”

 

From the University of Buffalo article: "When a sound is played into someone’s ear, the sound propagates through and is reflected and absorbed by the ear canal — all of which produce a unique signature that can be recorded by the microphone. The information gathered by the microphone is sent by the earbuds’ Bluetooth connection to the smartphone where it is analyzed.

To test the device, 20 subjects listened to audio samples that included a variety of speech, music and other content. The team conducted tests in different environmental settings (on the street, in a shopping mall, etc.) and with the subjects in different positions (sitting, standing, head tilted, etc.). EarEcho proved roughly 95 percent effective when given 1 second to authenticate the subjects. The score improved to 97.5 percent when it continued to monitor the subject in 3 second windows."

 

Read more about unlocking your smartphone with earbuds at the University of Buffalo.


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