Bionym heartbeat bracelet aims to abolish passwords

The device monitors the wearer's cardiac rhythm for authentication
  • Sam Shead (Techworld)
  • 05 September, 2013 19:06

Canadian start-up Bionym is aiming to make passwords, pins, keys and cards a thing of the past with a bracelet that handles authentication through heartbeat monitoring.

The Nymi bracelet has two built-in electrodes that can recognise the wearer's unique electrocardiogram (ECG) signal through their wrist in order to validate their identity.

Electrocardiograms are a measure of the electrical activity generated by an individual's heart (not the heart rate itself) and are 100 percent unique, depending on the size, position and shape of the heart.

Bionym claims that its multi-factor authentication technology is more secure than fingerprints, which can be stolen and used by others.

"Your cardiac rhythm is protected inside your body, making it almost impossible to steal, mimic or circumvent," said an official press release. "In comparison, a fingerprint is left on every surface a user touches."

"To access the Nymi you must first have possession of the wristband. Second, you must possess your unique heart rhythm, and finally, you must have access to the secure application on a registered smartphone. Once you've authenticated, you will remain authenticated so long as the wristband is not removed. Beyond that, the Nymi has a hardware-based secure element that is both tamper-proof and impossible to duplicate."

The Nymi bracelet uses Bluetooth Low Energy to transmit identification to a wearer's devices and to enable the bracelet to act as a proximity sensor.

After an initial set-up, where samples of cardiac rhythms are registered, Bionym claims that it is very easy to use. Putting the bracelet on and touching the contact point on top confirms a user's identity against the recorded ECG and will authenticate them to other devices while they wear the bracelet.

Bionym claims the link-up will work providing the bracelet is on and the user is relaxed and calm.

The University of Toronto spinout has also built in an accelerometer and a gyroscope to track the user's movement and enable them to carry out gesture-based controls. The motion sensor can be used to open car boots or doors wirelessly by moving the wrist in a certain direction, for example.

A promotional video released by the start-up suggests that its technology could also be used to access online banking, pay at the point-of-sale, and control smart TVs.

Bionym is preparing to release APIs and SDKs to developers who can put the technology to practical use and integrate Nymi's authentication system with different products. Initially the firm will support iOS, Android, Windows and Mac OSX.

The device went on pre-order this week at an introductory price of $79 (£50) for the first 25,000 customers; so far 2410 have purchased the device, which will go on general release early next year at a price of $99 (£63). The biometric security device comes in black, white or orange.

Karl Martin, CEO, Bionym, says: "The Nymi has been built by the principles of Privacy by Design. This means that each user has complete control over their data and identity. Transparency is very important to Bionym's culture, and every user has a right to know where their data is going."