The rise of biometrics identification has created a world where privacy becomes secondary. These technologies can be found in airports as you pass by cameras and facial recognition systems, in your cars that automatically unlock using your iris scanners, and in your phones as you open your screen with fingerprinting technology.
Now, they are in the Pentagon, and they’re not using your face, your iris, or your fingerprints — instead, they are using your heartbeat to unlock.
The Pentagon has recently commissioned the development of an artificially intelligent LASER system that has the capability of identifying people within a 200-meter radius through analyzing their unique heartbeat signature.
According to the report from MIT Technology Review, the technology, known as Jetson, uses laser vibrometry to identify surface movement on the skin caused by a heartbeat, and it works even through clothes.
“Everyone’s heart is different. Like the iris or fingerprint, our unique cardiac signature can be used as a way to tell us apart. Crucially, it can be done from a distance,” wrote MIT Tech Review.
The report said that the US Special Forces has been “intrigued” of the capabilities of the technology to identify people from a distance. It works similarly as other long-range biometric techniques like gait analysis, which identifies people with the way that they walk. The gait analysis was supposedly used to identify infamous ISIS terrorists before a drone strike.
However, gait, much like face, are not distinctive characteristics. Multiple people can have similar strides or may look alike, and that confuses gait analysis AI or facial recognition software. Conversely, heartbeats are unique, and an individual’s cardiac signature remains constant and cannot be altered or disguised.
While it works at 200 meters (219 yards), longer distances could be possible with a better laser. “I don’t want to say you could do it from space,” says Steward Remaly, of the Pentagon’s Combatting Terrorism Technical Support Office, “but longer ranges should be possible.”
Heartbeat identification technique is not new. The Canadian company Nymi has developed a wrist-worn pulse sensor as an alternative to fingerprint identification. Halifax has also adopted the technology in the UK.
The difference, however, is that Jetson can be adapted just by using off-the-shelf hardware, similar to the device that is usually used to check vibration from a distance in structures such as wind turbines. For Jetson, a unique gimbal was added, so that an invisible, quarter-size laser spot could be kept on a target and could return good results in only 30 seconds.
However, this method also has its limitations. While it can collect data even from distances, it can only make identifications if the subject is not in motion. The best results can be obtained from people who are sitting or standing still.
Nonetheless, Jetson proves that amidst its limitation, it still has a wide range of potential military application that’s why Special Forces have requested for it. Official documents from the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO) suggest this has been in the works for some time. With this kind of technology and as the system advances, analysts believe that Jetson may be able to render facial recognition obsolete.
Continuous development of recognition and tracking tech
The continuous government effort to develop identification systems has become more aggressive in the past few years. Only recently, a Chinese scientist has developed and trained an AI that can track people through their movement.
The researcher has found a way to balance security and privacy through artificial intelligence that can allow computers to echolocate. By training AI to sift through signals from arrays of acoustic sensors, the system can gradually learn to parse your movements—standing, sitting, falling—using only ultrasonic sound.
According to Dr. Xinhua Guo at the Wuhan University of Technology, the newly developed system can be more palatable to privacy advocates, as it is not as invasive as cameras or facial recognition software. As artificial intelligence relies on echolocation and ultrasonic sounds, similar to the technology that allows people to navigate in the dark, it does not invade privacy since it does not record any video or audio. This means that it only tracks motion and not the person per se.
“Human activity recognition is widely used in many fields, such as the monitoring of smart homes, fire detecting and rescuing, hospital patient management, etc. Acoustic waves are an effective method for human activity recognition,” Dr. Xinhua Guo wrote in his study.