On April 24, 2014, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a series of three patent applications from Apple that revisits the many authentication systems that Apple is working on beyond just a fingerprint scanner. Apple touches on retinal scanning, eye tracking, voice prints and other systems for the iPhone and MacBook Pro alike. For the MacBook Pro, the biometric sensor could be built right into a familiar keyboard key or in the palm rest. Lastly, Apple adds retina scans to one of their patents patent claims to ensure that it's a protected future feature option.
Apple's Patent Background
Electronic devices, and in particular portable electronic devices, are used to store personal information. For example, users may use cellular telephones, PDAs, smart phones, or other electronic devices to store contacts, e-mail, calendar information, documents, and other information used by the user. While this information may not necessarily be confidential, users may desire that at least some of that information be unavailable to other people. One approach for preventing unauthorized people from accessing and viewing the user's personal information may be to require users of the electronic device to provide a password or pass code prior to enabling device functions or accessing device resources. For example, the electronic device may require a user to enter a four number or four letter pin prior to displaying the device home screen (e.g., a spring board) or menus. As another example, an accessory device for detecting a user's fingerprint or for scanning a user's retina may be coupled to the device such that the user must first show an authorized fingerprint or retina before receiving access to the device.
While both of these approaches may be useful, restricting access based on a password or pass code is effective only so long as no other user knows the password or passcode. Once the password or pass code is known, the restriction mechanism may become ineffective. Also, a password or pass code may be forgotten, thus locking an authorized user out of the device. In addition, requiring a user to provide a fingerprint or submit to a retina scan may be time consuming and bothersome for the user, requiring an additional step before the user can access the device. While this approach is more secure than entering a password or pass code, it comes at a cost in hardware (e.g., the necessary scanner, detector, or reader) and time. It would be desirable therefore, to provide an electronic device by which biometric and other authentication mechanisms are implemented in the device such that the device authenticates the user quickly and seamlessly, for example as the user turns on, unlocks or wakes the device.
Apple Invents Embedded Authentication System
Apple's invention generally relates to electronic devices with embedded authentication systems for restricting access to electronic device resources. Access to any suitable electronic device resource may be restricted, including for example access to files or data stored on or available to the device.
As another example, access to particular applications may be restricted (e.g., applications purchased by particular users, or applications associated with administrative tasks or privileges). As still another example, access to personal settings (e.g., displayed options, background images, or the icons used for applications) may be restricted until the user authenticates.
The invention provides methods, electronic devices and computer readable media for authenticating a use of an electronic device. In some embodiments, an electronic device may seamlessly authenticate a user. The electronic device may receive an input from a user, the input provided by an input mechanism of the electronic device.
The electronic device may detect identification information as the user provides the input from one or more sensors embedded in or adjacent to the input mechanism. The electronic device may authenticate the user by comparing the detected identification information with identification information stored in a library of the device. For example, the sensor may include a sensor for detecting features of a user's skin, or features underneath a user's skin. The sensor may be embedded in at least one of a touch screen or a button. It could also be found in a key of a keyboard or housing of the keyboard or an input mechanism on a mouse.
In one of our recent reports titled "CrucialTec's CEO Spins a Tale of being foiled by Apple's Late CEO Steve Jobs," CEO Charles Ahn alleged it was his idea to put the biometric fingerprint scanner in the Home Button of Apple's iPhone. In this patent which in part goes back to early 2008 if not 2007 we see that Apple had the idea of using a fingerprint scanner in an embedded button as noted above.
The patent information continues stating that any suitable authentication system may be implemented. In some embodiments, the authentication system may include a system for detecting biometric features or attributes of a user. For example, the electronic device may include a system operative to detect and authenticate a user based on features such as a fingerprint, hand print, palm print, knuckle print, blood vessel pattern, or any other suitable portion of or under the user's skin.
As another example, the electronic device may include a system operative to detect and authenticate a user based on features of a user's eyes or face, or movements of the user's eyes.
Apple goes so far as to add "a retina recognition system, a vein pattern recognition system," to two of its patent claims making it a core priority.
As still another example, the electronic device may include a system operative to detect features of a user's ear canal, an odor associated with the user, a user's DNA, or any other suitable biometric attribute or information associated with a user.
In some embodiments, the electronic device may determine that a user is aligned with a sensing component of the device without directing the user to align with the sensing component. For example, the sensing component may be positioned such that the sensing region of the sensor includes expected positions of the user while the user operates the electronic device. The sensor may detect one or more biometric attributes of the user (e.g., facial or eye features) using the sensing component. For example the sensor may include a camera or optical sensor located adjacent to a display of the device. The user may then be authenticated by comparing the detected biometric attributes with a library of biometric attributes stored by or accessible to the electronic device.
In some embodiments, the electronic device may authenticate a user based on common attributes of options selected by a user. The electronic device may display several selectable options for selection by the user, and may receive a user selection of a subset of options. The electronic device may then identify one or more attributes common to some or all of the selected option. The attributes may include, for example at least one of, size, color, contour, fill pattern, shape, alignment with other options, the position of an option relative to other options, the source of the option, or any other suitable attribute. The electronic device may then authenticate the user based on the identified attribute. For example, if the user has selected all of the shapes sharing an attribute associated with a particular user, the electronic device may authenticate the user.
In some embodiments, the electronic device may authenticate a user based on a pattern of inputs received by the device. The electronic device may include a sensor operative to detect several inputs provided by a user. For example, the sensor may include an input mechanism operative to receive inputs provided by a user. As another example, the sensor may include an accelerometer or gyroscope operative to detect motion of or contacts with the electronic device.
The electronic device may be operative to identify a pattern of the detected inputs, and to compare the identified pattern with patterns stored in memory to authenticate the user. The patterns may include temporal patterns (e.g., related to the delays between consecutive inputs), visual patterns (e.g., related to attributes of several options selected by the user or inputs provided by the user), or combinations of these. Upon authenticating the user, the electronic device may provide the user with access to restricted electronic device resources.
Apple's patent FIGS. 8A and 8B are schematic views of an iPhone detecting a user's handprint. When a user holds the iPhone, the user's hand may be cupped around the iPhone's housing which may include sensor 820 embedded in back surface and operative to detect features of a user's palm or hand.
By placing the sensor on the back surface it may authenticate the user when the user holds electronic device seamlessly. Specifically, the sensor may include a two-dimensional sensor, thus allowing the iPhone to seamlessly authenticate the user without requiring the user to move or slide a hand against the back surface.
Retinal Scans & Eye Tracking
Apple notes that their authentication system may include a skin-pattern sensing mechanism, an optical system for identifying users based on their facial patterns, eye features (e.g., retinas), or vein patterns, or any other sensor for detecting any other unique biometric feature or attribute of a user.
In some embodiments, the authentication system may instead or in addition include a sensor operative to authenticate a user based on attributes of the user's eyes. For example, the sensor may be operative to scan a user's retina, iris or retinal blood vessels to detect unique patterns of the user. The sensor may include a light source operative to emit light, for example infrared light, to be reflected by the user's eye and detected by a lens or optical sensor. The sensor may analyze the received light to create a representation of the user's eyes that can be compared with a library of authorized user's eyes.
As another example, the sensor may instead or in addition be operative to detect movements of the user's eyes, for example by tracking the position and movement of a user's retina, iris, blood vessels, or any other feature of the user's eyes. Before providing a user with access to electronic device resources, the electronic device may direct the sensor to detect a predetermined eye movement set up by an authorized user. For example, each authorized user may create an eye movement track by moving his eyes in a particular manner (e.g., up, down, left, right, blink, blink) while looking at the sensor. When a user of the device moves his eyes in a manner that matches a predetermined eye movement, the electronic device may unlock the device or provide access to restricted resources.
Using Your Voice as an Authentication Signature
In some embodiments, the authentication may be operative to authenticate users based on attributes or qualities of their voices. For example, the authentication system may be operative to detect a particular voice pitch or voice signature. The authentication system may be text dependent (e.g., the user must say a particular phrase to authenticate, such as "my voice is my passport") or text independent (e.g., any suitable words may be said to authenticate the user).
In some embodiments, the authentication system may require the user to say a secret password to authenticate, thus requiring both knowledge of the user's password and the user's voice pitch to properly authenticate.
The authentication system may include any suitable component for authenticating a user, including for example a microphone. In some embodiments, the microphone may be primarily used for other purposes (e.g., telephone communications or video conferencing).
MacBook Pro Authentication System
Apples patent FIG. 10 noted below illustrates a biometric authentication system for a MacBook Pro that is designed to detect features underneath a user's skin. For example, sensor #1020 may include an optical sensor operative to detect a user's vein patterns near the user's wrists.
The sensor may be located on any suitable surface of the MacBook Pro, including for example on or embedded in its housing (#1012) such that the user's wrists may be adjacent to the sensor when the user's hands are positioned to provide an input using input mechanism #1010. Such a positioning may allow for a seamless authentication of the user by detecting features underneath the user's skin (e.g., a vein pattern by the user's wrist) while the user operates their MacBook Pro.
Apple's three patent applications regarding embedded authentication systems were filed in December 2013. Parts of the patents include subject matter dating back to 2008. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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