Q&A: How biometric data can secure your Android smartphone

If your Android smartphone's lock screen leaves you feeling a little insecure, you might soon be able to replace it with biometric security controls.

VIDEO: Speech recognition that doesn't suck

That's because mobile application developer Blue Planet Apps is developing an application for Android that will let you unlock your phone using voice and face recognition software. The application, known as BioLock, is currently being tested in its beta version and is expected to be released sometime over the next year.

It was given its first public showing this week by the popular Android blog AndroidGuys, which also posted a demonstration video showing off the app's capabilities.

In this Q&A with Blue Planet Apps CEO Jason Braverman, we'll learn how BioLock works, what metrics it uses to recognize users and why Blue Planet decided to develop specifically for Android.

So tell us a bit about how BioLock works.

Jason Braverman, CEO of Blue Planet Apps: It's a voice, iris and face-recognition system for Android, although we're still working on the iris end of it right now. It's not functional yet, but we think it will be done in the next 45 days. We've basically designed the app to replace the unlock screen on your phone, so you'll be able to unlock your phone using your voice or scans of your face or iris. We're also going to have an API that you can embed in functions of applications so you can open incoming emails using voice and face recognition.

What hardware requirements does the application have?

Not too many. You're really just looking at a 1GHz processor and a front-facing camera that you'll need to scan your iris or face.

Why did you decide to develop this application for Android before any other platforms?

Once we knew that the Android platform was coming out a few years ago and we knew what hardware they were going to build for it, we realized we had a platform and operating system that would allow us to do things that we weren't able to do in past with such efficiency and ease of use. We couldn't do this as easily on a platform like BlackBerry, for instance because they haven't yet provided us with road map to show us that the necessary hardware is going to be there. And the problem we have with iOS is that there's no way that Apple would let us design an app that would supersede their lock screens unless they worked out a specific agreement with us.

Have you considered using any other biometric data, such as fingerprints?

The thing with fingerprint scanning is that you can't get close enough to really get a detailed image of a person's fingerprint with the current cameras and the person has to keep their finger very still to get an accurate picture. We also tried to do palm scanning, but that turned out to be unreliable as well, so realistically speaking we reached the limits of what we could do on the current hardware.

What are some of the hard challenges with the software that you're still working on?

Our biggest challenge right now is overcoming how to perform the voice recognition program when the user isn't connected to a data network. Although we can perform face and iris scans on the device without a data connection, the voice verification requires a massive amount of computing power and it's not something we can do on the device itself. So instead we take an audio sample and send it off to a server and it gets sent back to you in around one-and-a-half seconds. The second problem we're working on is what to do in the event that the user becomes unable to unlock their device using the three recognition systems available to them. The idea we're thinking about now is maybe creating a desktop version of this that will let you authenticate through a Web cam instead. These are all things we hope to learn more about from the beta group going forward.

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