Could your breath enable your phone to identify you?


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Facial recognition and fingerprint verification are becoming common security features on our phones and now your breath may be a potential option for biometric security, according to a report published in Chemical Communications

Researchers from Kyushu University’s Institute for Materials Chemistry and Engineering worked with the University of Tokyo and have developed an olfactory (smell) sensor that can identify a person by analyzing their breath, the report said.  

“Recently, human scent has been emerging as a new class of biometric authentication, essentially using your unique chemical composition to confirm who you are,” first author of the study, Chaiyanut Jirayupat, said in a release. 

Bangkok, Thailand - December 12, 2015 : Apple iPhone5s held in one hand showing its screen for entering the passcode. Researchers from Kyushu University's Institute for Materials Chemistry and Engineering who worked with the University of Tokyo developed an olfactory (smell) sensor that can identify a person by analyzing their breath, the report said.  

Bangkok, Thailand – December 12, 2015 : Apple iPhone5s held in one hand showing its screen for entering the passcode. Researchers from Kyushu University’s Institute for Materials Chemistry and Engineering who worked with the University of Tokyo developed an olfactory (smell) sensor that can identify a person by analyzing their breath, the report said.  
(iStock)

The ‘artificial nose,’ contained a 16-channel sensor that verified up to 20 individuals with a 97.8 % average accuracy rate, the release said.  

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The researchers noted that current technology relies on biometric authentication that is typically done through voices, fingerprints, palm prints, and faces. In some cases, ear acoustics and finger veins are used to protect the security of a person’s assets, the study authors said in the report.  

“These techniques rely on the physical uniqueness of each individual, but they are not foolproof. Physical characteristics can be copied, or even compromised by injury,” Jirayupat said in the release and is one of the reasons the team looked at other biometric authentication measures.  

The researchers noted that current technology relies on biometric authentication that is typically done through voices, fingerprints, palm prints, and faces. In some cases, ear acoustics and finger veins are used to protect the security of a person’s assets, the study authors said in the report.  

The researchers noted that current technology relies on biometric authentication that is typically done through voices, fingerprints, palm prints, and faces. In some cases, ear acoustics and finger veins are used to protect the security of a person’s assets, the study authors said in the report.  
(iStock)

The investigators looked at gas compounds produced by the individual’s skin, but said it was limited because the skin does not produce enough compounds for machines to detect. This lead the team to investigate if a person’s breathe could be a viable option.  

“The concentration of volatile compounds from the skin can be as low as several parts-per-billion or trillion, while compounds exhaled from the breath can go as high as parts-per-million,” Jirayupat explained in the release. The study author also said in the report that human breath currently is being used to identify if a person has certain diseases, including diabetes, cancer and even COVID-19.  

The researchers developed an olfactory sensor that could identify a specific range of compounds. They analyzed participants’ breath and decided 28 compounds in human breath could be used for biometric authentication. The sensor data was passed through a machine learning system that analyzed the composition of each subject’s breath and developed a profile to identify an individual, the release said. 

Brett Case, PhD, sterilizes his suit with disinfectant spray before working with the virus that causes COVID-19. The researchers developed an olfactory sensor that could identify a specific range of compounds. They analyzed participants’ breath and decided 28 compounds in human breath could be used for biometric authentication.

Brett Case, PhD, sterilizes his suit with disinfectant spray before working with the virus that causes COVID-19. The researchers developed an olfactory sensor that could identify a specific range of compounds. They analyzed participants’ breath and decided 28 compounds in human breath could be used for biometric authentication.
(Matt Miller/Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis)

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The team tested breath samples from six people and then a larger sample of 20 subjects.  

The findings consistently revealed that they could identify the individual with an average accuracy of just under 98% in both sample groups.  

“This was a diverse group of individuals of differing age, sex, and nationality. It’s encouraging to see such a high accuracy across the board,” Takeshi Yanagida, who led the study, said in the release. 

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In this study, the subjects fasted six hours prior to being tested. Yanagida said in the release, “The next step will be to refine this technique to work regardless of diet. Thankfully, our current study showed that adding more sensors and collecting more data could overcome this obstacle. ” 

However, don’t hold your breath if you are waiting for this option on the next smartphone – the study authors said further work is needed before it arrives on your device.  

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