Vibrating bones: your next password solution

A new form of security authentication uses the unique vibration signals in your bones as verification.
The unique vibrations in the bones in our fingers could turn any solid surface into a touch screen.

Over the years on Spark, we've talked a lot about getting rid of passwords.

We've looked at software solutions like OpenID and biometric options like facial recognition and gait analysis.

We heard about research into "subconscious passwords" -- an unusual mix of neuroscience and cryptography. We even explored narrative passwords. Yes, using stories! 

This week, it's all about the vibrating power of your bones. Specifically, the bones in your hand.

Researchers at Rutgers University are looking beyond fingerprints and touch screens to develop a touch-sensing technique that uses the unique vibration signals in your bones as verification. It's called VibWrite.

The main idea is that we want to turn any solid surface into a touch screen.- Yingying Chen

Yingying Chen

Yingying Chen is an engineering professor and the director of the Data Analysis and Information Security Lab at Rutgers University.

She spoke with Spark host Nora Young about the VibWrite system, which is still at the prototype stage.

NORA: So how does it work?

YINGYING: We need to have a pair of vibration motors and also a receiver. So they are small sensors the size of a coin, and the two sensors need to be attached to the surface or beneath the surface.

When the people's finger touches the solid surface, the vibration signals will capture both the behaviour and the physiological characteristics that is reflected in the people's bone structure, the skeleton, the touching surface, and also the touch and size of your finger. And also the way that you enter the PIN and lock pattern are also very unique for each person.

Illustration of a finger touching on a solid surface under physical vibration. (DAISY Lab/Rutgers)

So, the way I would be entering a passcode would be different than the way you enter a passcode, even if we have the same passcode?

Yes, because our behaviours are different and our physiological characteristics are also different, and this could be extracted by capturing the vibration signals. We're looking to the unique features of each person, so then we can differentiate between you and me.

That is so cool! What does it feel like when you use it?

Actually people will not feel the vibration signals because the signals we use are in a high frequency band so human ears cannot hear it. So when you push your fingers or perform the swipe on the table or on the door panel you will not feel anything.

Experimental setup of VibWrite on a wooden table and door panel. (DAISY Lab/Rutgers)

Can you paint me a picture of where this kind of authentication system could be used?

What we envision is that it could be used in many smart access systems, such as in high rise corporate buildings' or apartment buildings' entrance doors. And also in hotel rooms-- you put your finger or palm on the hotel door, and you can enter your hotel room. If you have a car, you can just put your palm on the door and unlock your vehicle to let you get into your car.

And also in smart homes in the entrance and in smart appliances, to improve the home safety. For example, the hot stove and the dryers, usually we don't want small kids or elder people to operate them. So in that sense this could also be utilized to help in that environment.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more, listen to our conversation with Yingying Chen.


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