A new biometric verification technique is being developed by Japanese multinational NEC which uses the resonation of sound and unique structure of human ear cavities to determine personal identity.

The system is able to monitor the acoustic characteristics within the ear, almost instantaneously, through an earphone with a built-in microphone to gather the sound data. The company argues that the method is a stable, highly reliable and rapid form of recognition technology which requires minimal computational complexity.

During the process, the system uses a synchronous addition method to add and collect the average of the waveforms from the received signals. This eliminates noise from the signals and calculates how the sound resonates around the ear. All these steps take place within a second.

“Since the new technology does not require particular actions such as scanning a part of the body over an authentication device, it enables a natural way of conducting continuous authentication,” said Shigeki Yamagata, general manager at NEC’s Information and Media Processing Laboratories.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 11.51.49Yamagata explained that because of this advanced capability, the system is even able to authenticate an individual while moving, unlike other verification processes such as retinal scanning. Ears are also predictable – they remain a fixed shape despite changing expressions and age which could affect facial recognition for example.

The new biometric model is extremely accurate – achieving a success rate of over 99%. This level of reliability is achieved by extracting values from both external ear signals reflected by the tympanic membrane, and those that pass through the membrane and are reflected within the inner ear cavities

According to NEC, the system could become commercially available as soon as 2018 and used across a wide range of applications, from preventing identity fraud to helping to secure critical infrastructure. The firm also suggested that the system could improve the confidentiality of wireless communications and phone calls.

Ear biometrics is not a new concept, with research in the field spanning the last decade. In 2005, a team of scientists at the University of Southampton detailed an authentication technology which captures and maps the shape of the whole ear and represents it in code. However, the latest NEC research represents a key step in ear identification, jumping from techniques similar to face recognition to advanced biometric and acoustic analysis.