How biometrics is unlocking the future

Living Well | Story: Lucy Cleeve | Illustrations: Frank Maiorana | Posted on 18 September 2019

Password = your body. What the future of biometric technology means for humans.

Forget keys, wallets and impossible-to-remember passwords, imagine paying for cocktails, starting your car or clocking in at work with just your eyes. Whether you think this sounds creepy or convenient, personal identification through biometrics – the measurement of physical characteristics – is already a reality. 

Millions of us use fingerprint scanning and facial recognition as unique identifiers to complete everyday tasks such as accessing our phones and travelling through passport control. But advancements in biometric technology are moving fast, and the way we live our lives will soon be transformed further by this cutting-edge science.

Illustration of a bionic human

Your voice, eyes and even your body odour can be used to unlock your life.

Getting personal at home 

Victorians are already showing an appetite for safer and more personalised housing. “We are certainly seeing greater interest in sophisticated biometric home security systems,” explains John Richmond, director of Melbourne-based owner corporation management group Bluestone

“Technology such as fingerprint scanners and face recognition to access your home is becoming more commonplace, as well as connected devices that recognise owners once they are home, and know their lighting and heating preferences, for instance.” 

New St Kilda Road luxury apartment development The Muse will offer access via facial recognition, allowing residents to head out for a run or meet friends for coffee without a jangling pocket of keys. Number-plate recognition technology will also trigger a warm welcome home with a lift sent to collect and deliver you express to your floor, where lights, music, curtains and temperature will be just the way you like them.

But it’s not just high-end apartments embracing biometrics. Melbourne building group Simonds Homes recently announced that new ‘wellness features’ will be included in all their new homes. As well as delivering advanced air and water filtration, Simonds plans to improve residents’ sleep quality by tracking their circadian rhythms, and adjusting lighting to align with their daily – and nightly – routine.

In the car

While we haven’t quite reached the flying cars stage yet, car travel is evolving at speed and designers are embracing the vast possibilities of biometrics. Hyundai recently announced the release in China of a keyless Santa Fe model that uses fingerprint unlocking and ignition. Car brands are also exploring driver recognition for automatically adjusted seat position, steering-wheel height, and music and temperature settings. 

Taking biometric car technology a step further, Volvo is trialling driver health monitoring. The Swedish car giant is set to release driver-facing cameras, focusing on a driver’s pupils. The car will identify occupants for access, and track the driver’s stress levels and glucose levels, triggering a call to hospital if a worrying health issue is detected. 

Illustration of a bionic human
Illustration of a bionic human

Imagine paying for cocktails, starting your car or clocking in at work with just your eyes or fingerprint.

Easing the airport squeeze

An airport with no queues? Experts predict that this utopian reality may not be far off. In 2018, Sydney and Canberra airports began trials of facial recognition with a small number of staff and passengers. This technology could signal the end of passports and boarding passes – and turning up two hours before your flight – for good. 

Using automatic facial and fingerprint recognition, it may be possible to exit your airline gate and hop into a hire car, all within 30 seconds. Testing by US car rental company Hertz is demonstrating these exciting outcomes by replacing lengthy identification checks at Atlanta International Airport with biometrics. 

Cash will no longer be king

Carrying cash and credit cards – and risking theft or fraud – could soon be distant memories. And connections with smart home systems could even tell you there’s no milk in the fridge as you pass a supermarket. 

Biometric advancements will transform the customer journey. Services from banking to beauty could access your personal information as you walk in, creating individualised care, and customers’ preferences could trigger tailored shopping and offers in store.  

Biometrics will also be useful for shoppers with literacy or memory difficulties. Payments won’t rely on what you can produce or remember, but simply who you are. In 2018, Chinese e-commerce business opened a store in Indonesia with no staff. Biometrically identified customers take what they like and receive automatic charges for their electronically tagged items. 

There is no doubt that biometrics raise questions for us all. Concerns surrounding privacy, failure and fakery will trigger great debate in the coming years. And while they say you can’t stop progress, let’s hope that together we can recognise the power and limitations of this exciting technology.

No more roll call

In January 2019, Melbourne start-up LoopLearn received almost $500,000 from the federal government to help improve its facial-recognition capabilities. This tech will be trialled in 100 schools across Australia to streamline attendance marking and save precious teacher time.

What makes you you?

Biometrics researchers have developed technology to pinpoint personal identifiers:

  • Body odour could identify criminals and terrorists and be used during disasters such as earthquakes to find survivors among debris.
  • Voice biometrics are being used instead of passwords by a number of banks globally. 
  • Iris patterns are proving highly accurate for banking and border control, as each iris is unique.
  • Walking style, or gait, can identify you, whether you stomp, sashay or swagger.