Who

Anyone who uses a smartphone with in-ear earphones.

What

The pervasiveness of earbuds and earphones led to EarEcho, a biometric tool that uses modified wireless earbuds to authenticate smartphone users via the unique geometry of their ear canal. The device, built with off-the-shelf products, includes a pair of in-ear earphones and a tiny microphone. Acoustic signal processing techniques limit noise interference and share information between EarEcho’s components. When a sound is played into someone’s ear, the sound propagates through and is reflected and absorbed by the ear canal — all of which produce a unique signature that can be recorded by the microphone. This uniqueness can confirm the identity of the user — the equivalent of fingerprinting. The information gathered by the microphone is sent by the earbuds’ Bluetooth connection to the smartphone, where it is analyzed. EarEcho is a passive system that works when users are listening through their earbuds, meaning users need not take any action, such as submitting a fingerprint or voice command, for it to work. EarEcho works in any environmental setting (on the street, in a shopping mall, etc.) and with users in any position (sitting, standing, head tilted, etc.).

Where

University at Buffalo, New York

Why

Such a system can be used in situations where users are required to verify their identity such as making mobile payments. This would reduce the need for passcodes, fingerprints, facial recognition, and other biometrics. Just by wearing the earphones, which many people already do, users would not have to take any action to unlock their phones.

When

UB’s Technology Transfer Office has filed a provisional patent application for the technology.

Contact Timothy Dee, Associate Director of IP and Commercialization Manager, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; 716-645-8139.

Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the December, 2019 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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