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Brief Published: 5 May 2015

Press Ear To Unlock

Bodyprint would use the touchscreen as a large-area image sensor

Yahoo Labs, the research arm of US internet giant Yahoo, is working on a technology that unlocks smartphones using the owner's ear instead of a PIN or fingerprint.

Bodyprint would use the touchscreen as a large-area image sensor to identify users by the size and shape of their ears. In initial trials, scanning ears achieved a 99.8% accuracy rate. The company is also investigating whether users could touch their phone with a fist in order to identify themselves.

Using a touchscreen would be far cheaper than a fingerprint scanner, bringing biometric identification to a mass consumer market. The team, based in California, said the technology was designed to "increase the convenience of logging in and authenticating".

As fingerprint recognition becomes a standard feature in high-end smartphones and tablets, technology companies are exploring new ways to use the body – via gestures, ears and even the bloodstream – as an identification and security tool.

US smartphone maker Motorola revealed in 2013 that it was working on a pill that could turn the whole body into a password by triggering an 18-bit, ECG-like signal in the body. Meanwhile, South Korean electronics firm LG launched Knock in 2014, which enables users to unlock their devices with a distinctive knock on their smartphone screen – see MWC 2014: Security & Privacy for more.

To learn more about the latest security devices and services that are helping consumers protect their privacy, read Super Security.