Ears as the Next Biometric Identifier?

It could work says UK scientist -- if only we didn’t have hair on our heads


A University of Southampton scientist has just identified ears as a potential biometric signature but the fact that they can be concealed by hair means further research is needed.

Professor Mark Nixon of the School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) at the University of Southampton, one of the UK's earliest researchers in this field, has just published a paper entitled Force field feature extraction for ear biometrics in the publication Computer Vision and Image Understanding in which he presents the case for the use of ears as a biometric.

According to Professor Nixon, ears have certain advantages over the more established biometrics as they have a rich and stable structure that is preserved from birth to old age and instead of aging they just get bigger. The ear also does not suffer from changes in facial expression and it is firmly fixed in the middle of the side of the head against a predictable background, unlike face recognition which usually requires the face to be captured against a controlled background.

Taking into account all of these properties, Professor Nixon and his team decided to assess the ear as a potential biometric. They developed a new computerised force field transformation which allowed them to capture the ear image in a smooth dome- shaped surface whose special shape enabled them to identify the features more clearly.

They applied this technique to a small database of ears and initial results show promising results in ear recognition. Professor Nixon comments: 'This research proves that ears work as a biometric. However, there are drawbacks and one of them is that ears can be concealed by hair. We need devices that can integrate multiple biometrics. We are working on some of these at the moment and will be reporting on them soon.'

Professor Nixon is currently working on a paper on 'How does gait change with age?' which he will be presenting at the Fifth International Conference on Audio- and Video-based Biometric Person Authentication 2005, July 20 - 22, 2005, Hilton Rye Town, Rye Brook, NY 10573 on 22 July.