Why biometrics are perfect for the home

Controlling access to homes or office buildings and particular rooms or areas is a prime application of biometrics. Fingerprint technology is effective, but recent developments in iris-scanning now mean houses or offices can be unlocked simply by looking into a mobile phone.

"The phone itself will be able to register its owner's iris pattern for the first time, a process which takes ten seconds, using an LED light that shines into the eye and a small infrared camera," says Dr Kevin Curran, senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

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This kind of technology could also be used to control access to medicine cabinets or particular parts of a house or office, adds Derek Northrope, head of biometrics at Fujitsu. "Workmen could be given access between nine and five with limited access to certain things or areas," he says.

Voice biometrics, meanwhile, are already being used to help control smart televisions, enabling users to access channels and on-demand services by simply speaking to the TV.

The use of biometrics could also be extended to fridges or other online devices, allowing people to place orders from anywhere in the house without having to remember log-in details or passwords

"For an old-fashioned, unconnected TV, the remote control was perfect to pick a channel," says Daniel Faulkner, senior vice president, mobile, at Nuance Communications. "When we got cable and hundreds of channels, the seams started to strain and clicking through numerous TV guides, box office and on-demand services became more difficult. The good old remote is looking a little Victorian."

The use of biometrics could also be extended to fridges or other online devices, allowing people to place orders from anywhere in the house without having to remember log-in details or passwords.

As technology around connected homes and the internet of things evolves, so too could the potential use of biometrics, expanding into evermore proactive and personalised applications. Mark Thompson, a director at KPMG's cyber-security practice, predicts a future where almost every aspect of our lives can be controlled by biometrics, from the front door to the toaster, launching a chain of events as soon as an individual returns home.

"The door system will have facial recognition and provide access to the individual, and as they walk into the house a wristband will use their electrocardiogram or heartbeat pattern to recognise their emotional state and body temperature, adjusting the temperature of the room and turning on the TV at a channel to suit their mood," he says.

A low temperature could spark the kettle into life, he adds, while facial recognition on a tablet could detect signs of tiredness and warm up a bed or close curtains in preparation for sleep.

For now, though, this remains a bit too Tomorrow's World rather than reality. "The home and consumer biometric market is still at an early stage," David Tansley, technology partner at Deloitte, points out.

"It is being driven more by the incorporation of biometric capability into everyday electronic devices, rather than new services that require specific investment. There is currently no killer application," he says. "In many respects biometrics in the home are a solution seeking a problem."

BIOMETRIC TECHNOLOGIES

FINGERPRINT

The most common example of biometrics, this is already up and running in mobile phones, tablets and access-control systems. Relies on the unique nature of our individual fingerprints, but can be thwarted by dirty, wet or cut fingers.

IRIS

Another technology that is gaining ground, this involves taking a picture of the iris and comparing it to a previous version. Usually requires a viewing distance of 10cm, but Fujitsu has recently developed technology which is more flexible.

VOICE

Natural voice patterns are used to match up people with pre-recorded samples. This is already being incorporated into some mobile banking applications, but concerns over issues such as background noise still need to be resolved.

FACIAL

The unique patterns in people's faces are used to verify their identity. This is being used in some access-control systems, but factors such as strong sunlight or dark conditions, which cause people to adopt unusual expressions, can prove problematic.

KEYSTROKE

This uses the time it takes to find and press keys on a keyboard to identify individuals, drawing on the fact that most people have specific keys they find harder to locate, and tend to type at different speeds.

GAIT

An emerging technology seeks to identify people through analysing the way they walk. It has the advantage that individuals do not have to do anything to trigger recognition and can be used from a distance, although there are concerns around its accuracy.