There's been a lot of buzz surrounding Apple's possible use of a new Fingerprint scanner for a future iPhone, if not the next iPhone. Yet before any analyst made their views known on this feature, we first broke the news about Apple's biometric scanner back in 2012 and in fact Apple talked about fingerprint scanning for portables going as far back as 2010. It just so happens that the three companies competing for a new Pentagon contract happen to be in a race to include fingerprint scanning in their future portables, Apple being one of them. Yet beyond fingerprint scanners, the industry is looking at other means of device authentication. Motorola got a lot of buzz out the All Things D11 Conference last week talking up authentication tattoos and more. Some of what they discussed was interesting, but not all. Our report covers what Motorola talked about regarding future means of authenticating devices to make life easier and show you how Apple is on the cutting edge in that field.
Speaking at D11, Motorola's CEO Dennis Woodside talked about its next-gen Moto X phone, confirming the name as well as other details, including a fall arrival and the fact that it will be made in the U.S. (outside Fort Worth, Texas). The company also spoke about ways to improve the smartphone authentication process by using electronic tattoos and electrically charged vitamins. Woodside was joined onstage by Regina Dugan, the former DARPA head that now leads advanced research for Motorola.
Our report focuses on Motorola's ideas on device authentication and how Apple is actually on the cutting edge of delivering such next generation solutions. We begin with the Regina Dugan's presentation at the D11 conference that was very insightful. The following is our transcription of that segment as follows:
Dugan: "Authentication is irritating. In fact it's so irritating that only about half the people will do it. Despite the fact that there's a lot of information about you on your smartphone which makes you far more prone to identity theft than if you didn't otherwise have it there, right?
Mossberg: "So you're talking about passwords and pens and drawing patterns on Android.
Dugan: Sure, after 40 years of advances in computation we're still authenticating basically the same way that we did years ago. In fact it's gotten worse. Now you don't do it once a day or twice a day the average user does it 39 times a day and it takes them 3.2 seconds every time they do it. Power users will do it up to 100 times a day. So what are we doing about that?
We're thinking of a whole variety of options for how you could do better at authentication. And so you could start off with near term things like tokens or fobs that may have NFC or Bluetooth embedded in them. But you could also think about a means of authentication that you could simply wear, on your skin, every day for a week at a time. Say like an electronic tattoo.
Now, we're talking about wearables and everyone is interested in […wearables]. I'm profoundly interested in wearables. What I'll tell you … We've made a lot of advances in wearables but there are still some fundamental problems that we haven't solved. Like one of them is the mechanical mismatch between humans and electronics, right. So electronics are boxy and rigid and humans are curvy and soft. That's a mechanical mismatch problem. Well a researcher at the University of Illinois, his name is Doctor Rogers. What he discovered is that he could standardize CMOS techniques to make islands of high performance silicon connected by accordion like structures that will allow it to stretch up to 200 percent and still be performing. And what he did was founded a company. They started making electronic tattoos. I'm wearing one on my arm [as noted above]. This is a developmental system made by MC10. And it has an antenna and some sensors embedded in it. What we plan to do is work with them to advance a tattoo that could be used for authentication.
"Now, it may be true that 10 to 20 year olds don't want to wear a watch on their wrist (a reference to a statement that Apple`s CEO Tim Cook made on the opening night of D11 regarding an electronic device like a watch), but you could be sure that they'll be far more interested in wearing an electronic tattoo, if only to piss off their parents, right? (audience laughs).
Mossberg: "And that could have a design, right, because they would certainly want some kind of cool design."
Dugan: Options. And that's something that you wear, but you could also imagine including authentication in just your daily habits. So, I take a vitamin every morning, what if I could take vitamin authentication.
Dugan: Vitamin Authentication. I have one right here. Walt, I'll let you hold it. Would you like to hold it? This pill has a small chip inside of it with a switch. It also has what amounts to an inside out potato battery. When you swallow it, the acids in your stomach serve as the electrolyte and that powers it up. And the switch goes on and off and creates an 18 bit ECG wide signal in your body and essentially your entire body becomes your authentication token. Yes, this is true!
So what this means is that this becomes my first superpower. I really want this superpower. It means that my arms are like wires, my hands are like alligator clips when I touch my phone, my computer, my door, my car, and I'm authenticated in. My first superpower, I want that." Motorola's CEO Dennis Woodside quickly stepped in after seeing Mossberg's face of disbelief and stated that "we're not shipping that right away."
Mossberg: (Walt asks the question that immediately comes to mind when hearing about this pill.) Is this is FDA cleared?
Dugan: Here's the thing. This is not science fiction. The pill is actually made by a company called Proteus and they created it for medical applications. This pill has been CE stamped and cleared by the FDA, you could take 30 of those per day for the rest of your life.
Mossberg: And what happens? (Woodside is heard in the background saying "Nothing" to Walt's question). Does your heartbeat change?
Then Mossberg delivers a knockout remark: Does Google now know everything I do and everywhere I go? Let's face it, I like you guys but you're from Google!" Turning to Woodside, Mossberg asks "Does Larry (as in Larry Page CEO of Google) make you take one of these every day?" Woodside replies "It's optional" to laughter. Woodside then stated that we have actually demo'd this working in authenticating a phone. Woodside used the pill as a means of stressing that Motorola is willing to think boldly.
Think boldly: really? The CEO of Motorola thinks that an authentication pill is thinking boldly? Number one, they didn't invent it. Secondly, as you'll see below, the pill today only lasts 7 minutes. That's why Dugan later added that you could take up to 30 pills a day. Yet Dugan had earlier pointed out that a device owner had to key in an authenticating password 39 times a day wasting 3.2 seconds per entry. And how long will it take to get a glass of water to take that authentication pill? I suspect ten times that amount of time and I'm being generous.
And does anyone believe, FDA or not, that this won't have some kind of effect on your body over a decade or more. In my view, just to sound "cool," Motorola went one step too far with their idea of the authentication pill. That's not bold thinking. It's just pure off-the-wall thinking you'd expect to hear from those locked away in rubber rooms. I understand that Dugan under DARPA believed in the "I cubed" theory of "impossible, improbable, inevitable," but it won't apply to pill taking. Then again, perhaps you'll see that differently than I.
The Edible Password Sensor
According to Proteus, one of the creators of the edible sensor, the FDA gave it market clearance as a medical device for co-ingested applications in July 2012. The problem with using it in conjunction with an iPhone as an all-day password is that current edible sensors are limited to lasting 7 minutes. Although the company is likely working on a 24 hour solution, it's likely years away. And will you actually want to go that way to save 3.2 seconds!?
The images above from Proteus, presents the edible sensor for electronically confirming adherence or oral medications. (a) a closer view of the edible sensor; (b) edible sensor attached to a tablet; (c) an edible sensor co-encapsulated with a drug product using a sensor-enabled capsule carrier.
Apple was granted a Patent for an Advanced Sensor Strip
Apple was granted a patent back in 2009 for an advanced sensor strip and in it they presented a number of scenarios for this technology. One of them involved a sophisticated heart rate monitor. You could see the concept noted below from an image from the MC10 website, one of the makers of these medical strips. The man in the photo is holding an iPhone with its famed stainless steel band working in conjunction with a heart monitoring strip.
You could also check out our 2010 special report about these specialized sensor strips in context with "Body Area Networks." So while Motorola's CEO was proudly out to claim that they were "thinking boldly" this week at the D11 Conference, the fact is that Apple actually owns some of this technology that is needed to actually make it happen. It's not just words. This is why we love covering Apple's patents each and every week for the Apple Community so that they could get to see that Apple has a lot of ideas in the pipeline and help us debunk those that think they're leaders by using others' technologies and just talking up a storm.
I found that much of the "sales pitch" that Regina Dugan made for the tattoo technology during her presentation were just modifications of what can be found in the promotional video MC10 created back in 2012. And even aspects of the MC10 video mirrored ideas that came right from Apple's patent. Case in point: at the 3:05 point of this MC10 video you'll see the body sensor placed on a child's body. Below you'll find what Apple's patent states about the sensor used in such a scenario:
"The monitor devices of the invention have further application in medicine and patient health. One monitor device of the invention is shown in FIG. 55. Specifically, the device attaches to a baby's body (e.g., to a baby's chest, throat, leg, arm, buttocks or back) to monitor movement such as respiratory rate, pulse rate, or body accelerations. The device of the preferred embodiment synchronizes to repetitive movements (e.g., pulse rate or respiratory rate) and generates an 'event' in the absence of the repetitive movements. The device can for example be device 10w, FIG. 2E, facilitating easy placement on the infant by the adhesive strip (which is also beneficially sterilized) to measure heart rate as an event. The device can alternatively be a monitor device using a microphone to detect 'breathing' as a health metric for the infant. Regardless of the metric, the event reported by the device is preferably communicated immediately as wireless signals to a remote monitor, with an antenna to receive signals. The monitor is preferably portable so as to be carried with the infant's parents. The monitor generates an audible or visual alarm when an event is received from signals. The device seeks to address the very realistic concern of parents relative to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or other illnesses."
At the End of the Day
At the end of the day, many in the industry are re-thinking the authentication process and Apple is at the forefront with technologies from fingerprint scanning technology integrated into future iDevices through to delivering a personal items network that could involve sophisticated strip sensors that Motorola likes to call tattoos.
Apple's possible fingerprint scanner for a future iPhone could also double as an authenticating tool for e-commerce transactions in the form of an iWallet application. I don't think that electronic tattoos that you could buy off a shelf will be able to match the security needed for e-commerce that your fingerprint will. And it's likely nothing that the Pentagon will view as a serious authentication process.
While on some level, the authentication strip or tattoo may hold some limited appeal to Apple for devices other than the iPhone, such as an iPod touch or iPad, I think it's an idea that Apple will ultimately pass on. In the long run, I think that it will be viewed as a gimmicky fad and eventually for what it is: just another marketing rip-off.
Yet it's obvious that Motorola thinks this is the next "superpower" that we'll all want. It's like Samsung's new Galaxy S4 which allows users to wave their hand over the phone to answer it instead of simply pushing a single button. It's marketing gimmickry at its finest and for about a day, it's cool. But like a mirage, its appeal quickly vanishes.
Let's be honest here. Motorola's real reason for showing up at D11 had a bigger context. Motorola has another motivation for pushing tattoo superpowers and electrically charged vitamins. Motorola wants to push a cheap smartphone. In order to make back some of their lost upfront profits they need to find something that their customers will have to keep buying from them in order to actually make a profit. It's like selling the razor at cost so that they can rake in the real profits from the razor blades. It's the same old tired marketing shtick and not bold thinking.
At the end of the day, Apple's Fingerprint scanner approach to device authentication appears to be a reasonably sound solution that could extend to future e-commerce applications while better satisfying the Pentagon's need for stronger security for future smart devices. On the flip side, Motorola's vision of using magical "superpowers" and electrically charged vitamins to authenticate future Motorola smartphones sounded more like excitable gibberish than sound thinking.
Am I underestimating the numbers of adults and children that will buy into make-believe superpowers and silly stick-on tattoos? Time will tell. For now, what are your thoughts on this? Do vitamin authentication and electrical tattoos interest you? Send in your comments.
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