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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 July 2005, 01:41 GMT 02:41 UK
Ears recommended for biometrics
President George W Bush
Everyone's ear preserves its structure as you get older
A scientist in the UK has proposed that the unique pattern inside each individual's ear could be used as a biometric identifier, in the same way fingerprints are used.

Professor Mark Nixon of University of Southampton told BBC World Service's Outlook programme that ears do not change much as we get older, unlike other body parts.

This, he believes, means they are well suited for identification purposes, giving them a "unique advantage" in terms of age and expression.

"If you compare it with faces, the advantage of these is that they're both non-invasive biometrics - you don't have to make contact. But the disadvantage with faces is that they smile, they get old, you get wrinkles," he said.

"Your ear just carries on growing and it preserves its structure as you get older.

"That makes it quite advantageous in terms of biometrics."

Ear pattern

Biometric signatures are typically taken from teeth, fingerprints and the retina in our eyes.

Various governments have been looking into using them for systems such as ID cards and passports.

Biometrics have also already been put to use in areas such as computing, where a fingerprint can be taken to register a user.

Face recognition software running
Face recognition is already running but can have problems
And biometric facial recognition has already become a reality, with one police force describing it as the biggest forensic breakthrough since DNA.

But the problems of people's faces changing prompted Dr Nixon to look into using the ear as an alternative.

He pointed out that, for example, people do not tend to "decorate" their ear, as opposed to their face, with things such as make-up.

Two years ago the Canadian Passport Office ordered that smiling was banned from passport photos, as was wearing hairpieces that "substantially" altered a person's appearance.

"The problem with ears is obviously that you have hair, and sometimes the hair can obscure it, but with imaging technology we should be able to solve that," added Prof Nixon.

"What we've shown is that you can use it to recognise people, and people seem to be quite individual by their ear pattern."

Testing the biometric facts
26 Apr 04 |  Technology
How your face could open doors
25 Nov 04 |  Magazine

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