AirPods with Ear ID could someday unlock your iPhone

AirPods with Ear ID could someday unlock your iPhone

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Apple hopes to someday enable AirPods to identify who is wearing them.
Photo: Apple

First there was Touch ID, then Face ID. Now Ear ID could be on the way. Apple filed for a patent on a biometric system using AirPods wireless earbuds.

The idea is that headphones should be able to identify who is wearing them and refuse to work for unidentified wearers. But if the system is accurate enough, it could potentially be used to unlock an iPhone or Apple Watch without needing a passcode.

Wear AirPods that recognize you

Apple filed a patent for “User Identification Using Headphones.” The filing says, in the stilted language of typical of such, that “obtaining an inner-ear representation based on the response includes obtaining an impulse response from the received response, wherein the received response includes an echo of the audio output, and storing the impulse response as a vector.” In normal English, the engineers propose AirPods that can create a virtual map of the wearer’s inner ear.

Then there’s the important next step: “A similarity score is determined by comparing the inner-ear representation to a stored inner-ear representation,” according to the patent filing.

Ear ID? Really?

The engineers who worked on the concept are Jun Gong and Gierad Laput. The problem they’re tying to solve is, in their own words, that “conventional systems will typically allow any user (e.g., an unauthorized user) to place headphones in their ear, even if such headphones are communicatively coupled to the device of another user. As a result, conventional systems may risk releasing personal information from an associated device to unauthorized wearers of corresponding headphones.”

Which is a step short of Ear ID. But if AirPods can truly identify who is wearing them, they could be used to unlock other Apple devices.

Beyond that, Cupertino is reportedly working on AirPods with built-in health sensors. These could, for example, track the wearer’s heart rate and steps taken. Identifying who is wearing the earbuds is important for health tracking.

All that said, simply because Apple requested a patent on AirPods with biometric sensing doesn’t mean it will definitely release such a thing. The company regularly files patent requests for products and concepts that are never heard from again.

Via: Patently Apple