New Biometric System Can Turn Any Flat Surface into a Low-Cost Super Sensor

Vibwrite is a new, low-cost system that turns any surface into a biometric ID sensor. Developed by researchers at the University of Alabama, VibeWrite could spell the end for expensive fingerprint scanning technology.

New Biometric System Can Turn Any Flat Surface into a Low-Cost Super Sensor
VibWrite experiment setup on a wooden table and door panel. WinLab

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have developed technology that can turn any surface into a secure biometric ID sensor. Forget fingerprint recognition, this revolutionary system called VibWrite uses your unique finger vibrations to verify your identity. Meaning it could be applied to doors, equipment or cars, basically anything with a hard surface.

Both behavioral and physiological vibrations get measured

The technology works by combining a vibration motor, a vibration sensor, and a computer. The motor sends charges to the surface with low-amplitude vibrations, a 20kHz rumple that is much too low for humans to detect. The sensor then monitors the absence or presence of touch by feeling the change in vibration frequency. The change in vibrations is able to be understood by the computer as someone's identity by analyzing both the physiological signature of your hand - that is its unique bone structure - as well as your touch behavior - how hard you press when completing particular actions.

New Biometric System Can Turn Any Flat Surface into a Low-Cost Super Sensor
Source: WinLab

System could sell for less than $50

Nitesh Saxena, associate professor in the department of computer science at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, explained to online media the benefits of the system: “This is a low-cost system, which does not require specific hardware like fingerprint scanners or cameras. It can be embedded [into] any physical surface with little cost."


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The system is actually about 10 times cheaper than current fingerprint or iris detection software available for the same types of applications. But the cost doesn’t reduce the system's effectiveness. In trials using a wooden table, VibeWrite was able to correctly identify users with more than 95 percent accuracy. At the moment the system can recognize user tracing either the Greek letter pi or alpha or the equivalent of the lock pattern on an Android phone. But VibeWrites lead developer, Yingying Chen, says, “The eventual goal is to sign your name on the door” and have it unlock. The current iteration of the system can pick up your motion and vibrations 20-50 centimeters from the sensor. Chen explains, “Currently we’re using a very simple motor and receiver. We were trying to contain costs below $50. But a better motor and receiver give better accuracy and larger distances.”

More testing to be done before market

The system should be relatively easy to commercialize after a few ongoing problems have been sorted out such as increasing its first-time success rate. The team is also keen to more widely test VibeWrite under a range of conditions such as different temperatures, wetness, and humidity levels. Professor Saxena described their goal, “Right now, this is at the research prototyping stage, and the system’s accuracies need to be improved for a full commercialization, but it is definitely possible to transition this technology for real-world use in the near future.” If the idea does develop into a commercial product we might be able to get rid of keys completely and instead knock, tap and sign our way into buildings, cars and machines.

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