Even if you’re not one of the millions of Americans who uses something like “password” or “123456” to protect your data, it’s still probably pretty far from secure, as recent hacks of companies like Target and Kickstarter have made obvious. And even when passwords work—or at least work well enough to keep your ex-significant other from reading your email—they’re annoying to remember and track and continually reset. Soon, they may be extinct.
One of the newest alternatives for authentication, coming out later this year, is a wristband called the Nymi that can use your heartbeat to unlock a computer or even a car. The pattern of a heartbeat, like a fingerprint, is unique. But heartbeats are a little easier to use than other burgeoning biometric technologies: Just keep wearing the wristband, and the device will know who you are.
“With all other technologies, the user must take an action for each transaction—have their eye scanned, swipe a finger, have their face image taken, etcetera,” says Karl Martin, CEO of Bionym, the startup making Nymi. “The ECG also has the specific advantage of being directly tied to the body—unlike a fingerprint, face image, or iris image, you do not easily leave traces of your ECG.”
While the wristband can be used for everything you currently protect with a password, the designers want to take it farther. They’re building gestures into the device, so, for example, car manufacturers can enable locks that can be opened by swiping your hand while wearing the wristband. And what could potentially happen inside the car is even more interesting, because the wristband finally makes personalization possible.
“Imagine, for example, a car that knows if it's you or your spouse that's driving,” says Martin. “If it can do that, then it can always feels like your own car when you're driving: your seat and ergonomic settings, your entertainment settings, and your environmental settings.”
Walk into a restaurant, and the server could automatically know your favorite foods, or whether you have allergies. Walk inside your apartment after work, and an app could load up dinner suggestions on your computer while preheating your oven. It could also make it easier to share your tech with someone else without worrying about privacy. “You could share your tablet with someone else, and it could automatically load their email and social media, while locking out yours,” Martin explains.
Eventually, any connected device could be personalized. The trick for Nymi is getting enough users that developers will want to build related apps into new products. To help get the process started, Bionym is sending pre-release wristbands out to a group of developers, with the hope that some apps will be ready to go when the wristbands ship to consumers by mid-year.