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Technologies for biometrics and wearables are accelerating change

By Chuck Brooks

This is a guest post by Chuck Brooks, 

Vice President/Client Executive for DHS at Xerox

Our increasingly hyper-connected world is becoming even more connected and personal with the emerging generation of technologies for “wearables.” Advanced sensor technologies are being miniaturized, made flexible, and attachable to our bodies. These new technologies and their biometric components will have significant implications on the future of health, security, and how we conduct commerce.

Most of us are familiar with Google Glass, Samsung Galaxy Gear and Apple’s iWatch and the impact these technologies have already made on the wearable market. The factor forms for wearables extend beyond glasses and now include wrist bands, rings, contact lenses, ear pods, and clothing. Embedded chips are a possibility (perhaps a frightening one from a privacy perspective as we will be our own personal tracking device) in the not so distant future.

Human/computer interaction started more than forty years ago when Xerox’s PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) created the mouse driven Alto computer. Now it is estimated that will be over 604 million users of wearable biometrics by 2019 according to Goode Intelligence. Combined with the booming smartphone market (that is already reaching billions of people), networked mobility take on a new meaning from a data analytical perspective. Computers, data and sensors will be everywhere and be the internet of everything.

In healthcare, wearables are beginning to have impact. Health monitoring is being conducted via patches that can sense vital signs and blood chemistry. It also allows the patient to self-monitor. Telemedicine is a growing field where doctors can remotely keep abreast of patient conditions and use the data to mine health insights from medical research institutions and publications.

In the security world, wearables are being used for access control and authentication. Fingerprint sensors on computers and smartphones serve as pass keys. In addition to fingerprints and palm prints, sensor devices can utilize facial recognition, iris and retina scanners, voice recognition, and even smells as authentication factors for identity management.

Security screening can now also be done by bio-signatures or physiological authentication. People have unique heart rates, blood oxygen chemistry profiles, and skin temperatures. An interesting product that will soon be available is the Bionym Nymi Wristband that can measure your EKG heartbeat and pulse signatures and use the pattern to create a unique bio-signature that can identify the wearer.

Wearables will certainly have application for both the military and law enforcement. DARPA and MIT are doing research into the solider of the future. Smart fabrics will be able to sense and heal wounds, built-in visors will enhance visual analysis and embedded computers will analyze data. The future solider will have the ability to sense chemical or biological threats via sensors in their uniforms. According to Wearable Tech World, BAE Systems is developing a high-tech cognitive headset system that will allow military personnel to live-stream 3D maps of battlefields and different drone feeds, among other features. Attachments to the warfighter and police officer also may include robotic kinetic enhancements to be able to react, run, lift, and quell threats like never before. “Robo Cop” and the “Six Million Dollar Man” will no longer be just imaginary cinematic creations in the next decade.

In our daily lives, wearables are part of mobile commerce, including mobile banking. The cashless society is not too far off. Instead of our wallets, we will be able to pay for things via a whole assortment of wearable items with secure biometrics. And how where, when and why we purchase will be instantly tracked with algorithms and fashioned into metrics that will be analyzed and turned into actionable economic data.

The trend of wearables and biometrics is an emerging one with seemingly limitless possibilities. The question is no longer when wearable tech will be available, but how fast, these technologies will extend human /computer interface capabilities and how ingrained in our daily lives that these technologies will ultimately become.

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