IN “SKYFALL”, the latest James Bond movie, 007 is given a gun that only he can fire. It works by recognising his palm print, rendering it impotent when it falls into a baddy’s hands. Like many of Q’s more fanciful inventions, the fiction is easier to conjure up than the fact. But there is a real-life biometric system that would have served Bond just as well: cardiac-rhythm recognition.
Anyone who has watched a medical drama can picture an electrocardiogram (ECG)—the five peaks and troughs, known as a PQRST pattern (see picture), that map each heartbeat. The shape of this pattern is affected by such things as the heart’s size, its shape and its position in the body. Cardiologists have known since 1964 that everyone’s heartbeat is thus unique, and researchers around the world have been trying to turn that knowledge into a viable biometric system. Until now, they have had little success. One group may, though, have cracked it.
Foteini Agrafioti of the University of Toronto and her colleagues have patented a system which constantly measures a person’s PQRST pattern, confirms this corresponds with the registered user’s pattern, and can thus verify to various devices that the user is who he says he is. Through a company called Bionym, which they have founded, they will unveil it to the world in June.
See on www.economist.com