Ears to provide new way of identifying people at airports

Many other biometric approaches used to identify people are difficult to use.

London: Move over, fingerprints. Your ears -- believe it or not -- could soon provide a new biometric way of identification at airports across the world, say scientists.

A team at the University of Southampton in Britain has discovered that each person`s ears have a unique shape and so it has created a system that is able to scan them. And, the
scans can then be compared with a database of ear shapes to identify whose they are.

Many other biometric approaches used to identify people can be easily confused or are difficult to use. Facial recognition software, for example, is often confused by changes in expression so people need to maintain a neutral expression and in some cases even avoid wearing make up.

But, the British scientists hope the new system can be used to take pictures of a person`s ear as they walk through passport control at airports, `The Daily Telegraph` reported.

Professor Mark Nixon, who led the team from the university`s school of electronics and computer science said: "There are a whole load of structures in the ear that you can
use to get a set of measurements that are unique to an individual.

"With biometrics, a lot of the problems is what happens when people get old. With facial recognition, the systems are often confused by crows feet and other signs of ageing. Your
ears, however, age very gracefully. They grow proportionally larger and your lobe gets a bit more elongated, but otherwise your ears are fully formed from birth."

The ear scanning technique uses a technology called image ray transform that highlights all the tubular structures of the ear and measures them, say the scientists.

Professor Nixon believes ear scanning could take place as passengers walk though security gates, for example, by placing cameras on either side to capture an image of their ears.

The team tested 252 images of different ears and found the system was able to match each ear to a separate image held in its database with 99 percent accuracy.

"Fingerprints are one of the best ways we have of identifying an individual at the moment. But on some people, even they are not so effective. Bakers and brick layers tend
not to have obvious fingerprints as the distinctive whirls rub off.

"It is harder to do that with your ears, but there is one thing that can get in the way of the ears and that is hair. In reality, I expect there won`t be a single approach, but in
fact a combination of different biometrics that can be taken simultaneously to identify an individual," said Prof Nixon.

The scientists have presented their results at the Fourth International Conference on Biometrics.

A spokesman for the UK Home Office said they were aware of the ear identification technology but were not considering introducing it for use with British passports. "We welcome new and innovative technology but this is not an approach we are considering at the moment," he said.