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How Are Wearables Leveraging Biometrics?Biometrics are ‘unique physical characteristics’ used for ‘automated recognition’, as described by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Their monitoring tracks down signs and symptoms, related to conscious and unconscious changes of human traits and body parameters, like temperature, skin conductance, posture balance, brain activity, heart rate dynamics, etc. By doing so, one can assess users’ more complex characteristics like emotions and behavior.
Today’s implementation of biometrics is so widespread that, according to eMarketer’s recent report, by 2020, 100% of smartphones, wearables, and tablets will have biometric capabilities.
But how exactly do fitness trackers, smart watches, communication gadgets, wristbands, hearing aids, and other wearable devices get used to biometrics?
SensingNext-gen unobtrusive sensors attach to the skin, continuously monitor diverse parameters and translate human biological data into digital form: body temperature, heart rate, VO2, motion (including fall detection), and many others.
Sensors, used in wearables, can be of different types, including:
- Photoplethysmogram, also known as PPG or pulse oximeter waveform.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG), a physiological signal that measures the electrical activity of the heart.
- Galvanic skin response (GSR or skin conductance) measures the electrical conductance of the skin through the amount of moisture (induced by sweat) to determine body response to physical activity, stress, or pain.
- Accelerometer, which most typical use cases include the detection of device orientation and step counting.
Wearable sensors must be placed in a comfortable location that does not restrict the user’s everyday activities while capturing signals with the required quality for a biometric system.
ProcessingAt this stage 2 main purposes are fulfilled:
- Characterizing the collected raw data.
- Mitigating noise corrupting it.
- At the edge. A low-power edge processor is implemented into a wearable device and enhanced with a pattern-matching technology, to perform data stream processing and pattern recognition. This allows for instant data visualization and real-time feedback.
- In the cloud. Aggregated data is sent to a public or private cloud, where it is ingested, analyzed and stored.
Key Metrics & AssessmentThe result of applying signal processing algorithms in a variety of biometrics: heart rate variability (HRV), blood pressure, R-R interval (RRi). In fact, these metrics lay the basis for wearables’ functioning. They are used for further analysis and assessments, so the accuracy of these measurements becomes a primary concern for the manufacturers of wearable devices and IoT application development companies.
InterfaceAt this stage, the captured and evaluated data will be communicated to the interfaced asset: a mobile app, a wristband, a smartwatch. Building a user-friendly interface, which will help end-users easily navigate the collected data, as another task to solve, like the one we had in delivering a clear-cut design and intuitive interface for a mobile app connected with an intuitive pump.
Use Cases of Applying Biometrics to Wearables Projects
Wearables at WorkEmployers can use wearables for tracking employees’ health physical activity, posture, location, stress level, metabolic rate, and fatigue. ABI Research has come to the conclusion that by 2020 44 million workplace wearable devices will be integrated into wellness programs. No wonder that wearable device manufactures like Fitbit have taken into account this tendency and now offer corporate wellness programs to their clients.
Humanyze, a Boston-based company, provides employees with ID badges featuring incorporated biometric measuring tools. They track all sorts of interactions and movements in the office, like a length of conversations and voice tones. As a result, it leads to a better-designed workplace and well-being measurements.
Stress MonitoringApart from basic biometric data like measuring heart rate, wearables can collect more sophisticated information, related with our levels of anxiety, stress, and other parameters connected with our mental wellbeing. Some of these next-gen products have already come to the market, like Spire, which, via respiratory monitoring, defines an end-user’s emotional state and tracks down their stress level.
Biometric securityFingerprint authentication, facial scan, iris recognition, voice waves, hand geometry – these are some of the examples of how biometrics can be applied to identification and security systems. The US Department of Homeland Security has adopted the technology at border checkpoints and in the airports for international outbound flights. Another application case includes the implementation of fingerprints and a facial image into a national ID issued by the EU member states.
Biometrics-powered Predictions for the Wearables Market
- Wearable biometrics will be characterized by lots of hype and failures over the next five years. No one will make money on wearable biometrics, but we will start to see the first generation of practical applications.
- Over the next five years, wearable biometrics will be restricted largely to traditional modalities (e.g., facial recognition) built into worn accessories (e.g., body-worn cameras) and used primarily in applications like law enforcement and border security.
- Wearable biometrics will be widely accepted in the same way biometrics are generally accepted and used on smartphones today. There will always be a few vocal detractors, but the rapid pace of technology development and the transformational benefits offered mean that widespread adoption of wearable biometrics isn’t a question of “if”, but “when”.
- Intensive medical research in the area of biosensors and nanosensors will serve as the primary catalyst for a plethora of “non-traditional” biometric technologies – such as bioelectrical identification.
- Legislation governing privacy and acceptable use of wearable biometrics will increasingly lag behind the introduction of new technologies. This will exacerbate the problem of inconsistent laws in different jurisdictions. Apolitical organizations like the Biometrics Institute will play an increasingly important role in defining global standards and guidelines for wearable biometrics.