Smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles and other devices will identify users by measuring their heartbeats through their fingertips. The gadgets may soon recognize their owners at a touch.
"ECG biometrics identifies people by their cardiac rhythm," Foteini Agrafioti, an engineer at the University of Toronto who developed a version of the technology and started a company, Bionym, to market it, said.
"Not just their heart rate, but the actual shape of their heartbeat," he added.
Such a heartbeat ID, embedded into a phone or tablet, could lock out unauthorized users or bring up individuals' saved preferences on a shared device, researchers who studied the technology, said.
Heartbeats could be a secure alternative, or supplement, to more established biological ID measures, such as fingerprints. And unlike some futuristic identification schemes, heartbeat IDs are technologically ready to go.
When pictured in a graph called an electrocardiogram (ECG), human heartbeats all share the same general shape, each beat represented by the up-and-down spike familiar from medical dramas.
Recently, however, researchers have developed cheap, thin sensors that are able to measure ECGs through the fingertips.
People just need to touch the sensors for a few seconds, using one finger from each hand.
The finger sensors have made it possible to embed heartbeat measurements into smartphones and other devices, although they aren't precise enough for doctors' diagnoses. [Wearable Electronics Pave Way for Smart Surgeon Gloves]
Meanwhile, engineers have found that the exact shape of ECG spikes varies from person to person. Everyone has his or her own unique shape, which remains even during heart rate changes caused by excitement or exercise. That shape also stays the same over time.