The BeeGee’s must have been peering into the future when they came up with their disco hit, “Staying Alive”: “Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk….” Walking is no longer just about getting from one place to another; it is becoming a way to power the mobile electronics that we count on as part of our daily lives. And it may even be a biometric way to identify ourselves as unique individuals at the same time.
That’s the story coming out of research from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia. Researchers have created a wearable device that harvests energy from walking and stores it as electricity. It also analyzes the wearer’s walking motion, and uses this as a biometric fingerprint to identify the individual. Neither of these concepts are new; other systems have been built to accomplish these tasks. But other designs rely on accelerometers and other motion detectors to sense the wearer’s movements, which results in power consumption that reduces the effectiveness of the energy harvesting. The CSIRO researchers took a novel approach; rather then use sensors, they monitored the actual power being harvested. The power generation varies with movement, and these variations can be mapped to identify a specific individual.
In their tests with 20 participants, the device was able to correctly authenticate an individual 95% of the time. The system also used 78% less energy for the identification task than other devices. It even was able to identify 87% of “impostors” who were trying to mimic the motion of other people. The team is working on refining the security and identification features of the device, such as by adding breathing patterns. In the future, you may be able to carry a small battery pack — or even have it incorporated into your clothing — that will both power your wearable devices and provide constant identity authentication without the need for passwords or PINs.