Apple hints at heart rate sensor for user ID

In what seems a big step towards independence from the iPhone, the next generation of the Apple watch will feature user identification through a heart rate sensor. This is according to a patent application applied by Apple and published in Oct 2016.

The application submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is named: “User identification system based on plethysmography”. The article explains how a pulse oximeter will be able to verify a user from the biometric characteristics of his or her vasculature. The heart rate of the user would then be used to unlocked the Apple Watch similar to how the Touch ID would unlock the iPhone or the iPad.

A pulse oximeter is mainly an assembly of a two pairs of a light sensor and a light source and is packed inside a mobile device. It works by emitting light towards the skin, blood and other body parts. How much of that emitted light is absorbed and reflected is then used to determine the amount of blood present in the person’s skin. The amount of blood present in the skin is then used to calculate the person’s heart rate.

The intensity of the light reflected back to the two photosensors is applied to a scatterplot and is unique to every person. Thus, the data can be compared to previously saved information to verify the identity of the user.

Using vascular biometrics to verify the user can be as seamless as using fingerprints for Touch ID. The verification process can be triggered by motion, e.g., raising the device from the waist to the head. The motion trigger is made possible through the other sensors already on the apple watch: accelerometer and gyroscope.

The introduction of a heart rate sensor for user identification might mean that the users will no longer need to connect their Apple Watch to the iPhone to access other services like Apple Pay. The vascular biometrics can entirely replace the Touch ID.

Interestingly enough, the current Apple Watch already has the hardware necessary to apply the technology just mentioned. It already uses two light sources emitting different wavelengths of light. However, plethysmography, which this technology is based, uses the veins on the fingers and not on the wrist. Thus, how Apple plans to use the technology on the Apple Watch remains to be seen.

The patent was first filed by Apple in May of this year. Daniel J. Culbert is credited as its inventor.

More information can be found atApple Insider.

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