Apple has Won a Patent that Reveals a possible future Security Feature for AirPods Pro that involves Biometrics of the Inner Ear
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Today the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially granted Apple a patent that reveals that Apple is considering a system that will identify the owner of AirPods using inner ear biometrics. If the biometrics don't match up, the AirPods won't work. That's an interesting new security feature if it ever comes to pass.
Late in Apple's granted patent, under patent FIG. 9 below, Apple presents a process for identifying a user as an authorized user based on a biometric representation is illustrated.
In general, FIG. 9 illustrates the placement of a wireless headphone #902 in an ear of a user. Based on a biometric representation obtained by the wireless headphone, the user may be authenticated by comparing the biometric representation to a reference biometric representation.
For example, after the user places the wireless headphone in their ear, a first audio output may be provided by wireless headphone. In particular, the first audio output may include an ultrasonic signal transmitted from one or more microphones of wireless headphone.
Based on the audio output, a response may then be obtained by the wireless headphone. In some examples, the response is transmitted from the wireless headphone to another device, such as a mobile device associated with the user (an iPhone). The received response may include an echo of the ultrasonic signal included in the first audio output. For example, various characteristics of the user's ear provide an echo of the ultrasonic signal which is unique to the user.
Variations in the surface of the user's ear canal may cause the ultrasonic signal to reflect off the surface and generate an echo having a signature that is associated with the user.
For example, a user having a larger ear canal may result in an echo having a longer reverberation time than a user having a smaller ear canal.
For more details, review Apple's granted patent 11,438,683.
Apple's Listed Inventors
Gierad Laput: a Senior Research and Engineering Manager at Apple.
Jun Gong: Research Scientist