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Seven Patents Reveal Apple's Larger Biometric Road Map

1. Apple Cover Graphic - Seven new Patents reveal What's Next for Biometrics
To kick off the New Year, we get to see an overview of Apple's biometrics road-map. While Apple launched the iPhone 5S in September 2013 with the surprising Touch ID feature, Apple is already working on possible new ways of advancing biometrics in future devices including the iPad, Macs and even a possible application for the iPod. A lot of what Apple reveals here today relates directly to several new security measures for both consumer and enterprise markets. Report Updated 11:30 AM MST


Apple's Patent Background


Fingerprint recognition systems provide for user authentication by collection of fingerprint images and comparing against a database of known fingerprint information. For example, after collecting and processing a set of fingerprint images for an authorized user, accessing users can be authorized by collecting additional fingerprint images, and comparing these additional images against the database.


Collecting fingerprint images, whether from an authorized user, an accessing user, or a new user, typically involves determining the angle at which the user's finger is oriented with respect to the fingerprint sensor. For example, if multiple images are collected at different times, or by different sensors, the relative orientations can be used to compare the different images with those in an authorized user database.


When the accessing user fingerprint is being compared with a known fingerprint, it may be necessary to adjust the fingerprint image collected from the accessing user, so that it can be more easily compared with fingerprint information from the known authorized user (or with a group of known users).


Orientation of fingerprints can take substantial processing power, whether performed with respect to the fingerprint sensor, or with respect to a known fingerprint database. Finger orientation can also pose difficulties for sensor design, and orientation errors can introduce misalignment, mismatching and processing effects into the fingerprint image data.


Thus, there is a general need for improved fingerprint acquisition and authorization techniques, with greater processing efficiency and alignment capability. There is also a need for fingerprint enrollment and recognition systems that are robust to undesired failure modes exhibited by the prior art, and which provide additional utility and value across a wide range of different electronic devices and other applications.


Apple Invents Far-Field Sensing for Rotation of Finger


Apple's invention relates to fingerprint imaging and image processing techniques, and electronic devices utilizing these techniques. Depending on application, the devices may utilize one or more fingerprint image sensors configured to provide fingerprint image data from a user. One or more orientation sensors can be disposed separately from the image sensor, and configured for determining an orientation of the use's finger from which the image information is provided.


Typically, one or more electronic circuits can be coupled to the imaging and orientation sensors, and configured for combining sensor information to determine the orientation of the user's finger, for example with respect to the electronic device. A processor can then be configured to generate an oriented fingerprint image, based on the fingerprint image data in combination with the sensed orientation.


Some electronic devices also include touch screen or other display component. In these examples, the orientation sensors can be disposed about the periphery of the display. Alternatively, the orientation sensors may be included in the touch screen


The orientation sensors may include far-field sensors, which are configured to sense the finger orientation at a distance of more than two millimeters, or more. For example, the far-field sensors may include capacitive sensors configured to sense the finger orientation at a distance of more than two centimeters.


In some configurations, the fingerprint sensor may be configured into a control device. A grounding ring may be disposed about the sensor, with gaps or notches configured to determine finger orientation based on differences in grounding strength.


Various processor components can be configured to produce individual oriented image swatches, based on the fingerprint image data and the orientation of the finger. Memory can be provided for storing the individual (e.g., oriented) image swatches, and to combine a plurality of swatches into a unified fingerprint image.


2. Apple Patent filing for far-field sensing for rotation of finger 

Apple's patent Figures noted above (FIG. 3A, 3B and 3C) illustrate conceptual drawings of a first example fingerprint sensor and one or more orientation sensors included in a portion of a device, including first, second and third orientations of a user's finger with respect to the touch I/O device; FIG. 4 shows a conceptual drawing of a second example fingerprint sensor and one or more orientation sensors included in a portion of a device. This time around we're looking at an iPad.


Touch ID for Macs & iPod


Apple's patent filing states that the invention can be applied to devices other than the current iPhone and future iPad. It could apply to an iPod clickwheel (or virtual clickwheel or virtual scroll wheel), TV, MacBook or an all-in-one desktop like the iMac


Specifically, Apple states that "a computing system may drive a display with graphical data to display a graphical user interface (GUI). As embodied as a touch screen, touch I/O device may display the GUI. Alternatively, the GUI may be displayed on a display separate from touch I/O device. The GUI may include graphical elements displayed at particular locations within the interface. Graphical elements may include but are not limited to a variety of displayed virtual input devices including virtual scroll wheels, a virtual keyboard, virtual knobs, virtual buttons, any virtual UI, and the like."


Apple further states that the touch I/O device may include a touch sensitive panel which is wholly or partially transparent, semitransparent, non-transparent, opaque or any combination thereof. The touch I/O device may be embodied as a touch screen, touch pad, a touch screen functioning as a touch pad (e.g., a touch screen replacing the touchpad of a laptop), a touch screen or touchpad combined or incorporated with any other input device (e.g., a touch screen or touchpad disposed on a keyboard) or any multi-dimensional object having a touch sensitive surface for receiving touch input.


A user may also perform gestures at one or more particular locations on touch I/O device which may be associated with the graphical elements of the GUI. In other embodiments, the user may perform gestures at one or more locations that are independent of the locations of graphical elements of the GUI.


Gestures performed on a touch I/O device may directly or indirectly manipulate, control, modify, move, actuate, initiate or generally affect graphical elements such as cursors, icons, media files, lists, text, all or portions of images, or the like within the GUI. For instance, in the case of a touch screen, a user may directly interact with a graphical element by performing a gesture over the graphical element on the touch screen.


A gesture may be performed by moving one or more fingers or other objects in a particular manner on the touch I/O such as tapping, pressing, rocking, scrubbing, twisting, changing orientation, pressing with varying pressure and the like at essentially the same time, contiguously, or consecutively. A gesture may be characterized by, but is not limited to a pinching, sliding, swiping, rotating, flexing, dragging, or tapping motion between or with any other finger or fingers. A single gesture may be performed with one or more hands, by one or more users, or any combination thereof.


Combining Fingerprint Swatches


3. fingerprint image swatch system

Apple's patent FIG. 5 shows a conceptual drawing of a fingerprint sensor assisted by one or more orientation sensors while receiving or processing a fingerprint image.


In one embodiment, each database of fingerprint information can include a set of fingerprint image data, which can include a set of fingerprint image data, such as may be received from interacting with a fingerprint sensor associated with the touch I/O device.


Apple notes that the secure processor (#2040 FIG. 5) manipulates the fingerprint image information (or swatch thereof), with the effect of producing an oriented image swatch 2206. The secure processor can combine a first oriented image swatch with a second oriented image swatch to provide a combined data structure of collected swatch information (#2208).


Patent Credits


Apple credits William Vieta and Wayne Westerman as the inventors of patent application 20140003683 which was originally filed in Q1 2013. To review this invention, see Apple's filing.


Unique GPS + Touch ID Feature


In a second related patent titled "Biometric Receipt" Apple states that their invention relates to an electronic device that provides a tracking report to a computing device that is located remotely from the electronic device. The tracking report may include location information that identifies the geographical location of the electronic device, and device user information that identifies the user of the electronic device. The electronic device acquires location information for the tracking report through a location awareness capability such as a global positioning system. The electronic device acquires user identification information for the tracking report through a biometric scanning component, such as a finger print sensor or other device that senses biometric properties when a user is touching or in close proximity to the device.


In one segment, Apple states that "By combining location awareness with a biometric scan, an individual or group may more effectively track the location of the user of the electronic device. Because the tracking report identifies the user of electronic device and because the biometric information used to identify the user was input when the user and the electronic were at least in close proximity, the location of the electronic device can be used as a reasonable proxy for the location of the user.


For example, a parent who wishes to track the location of child may do so by employing embodiments discussed herein to track the location of the child's mobile phone. Because the tracking report includes information identifying the user of the mobile phone, the parent can know whether or not the child is separated from the phone.


I'm sure that other applications could spring from this one idea. One such idea could be designed for the elderly who live alone. They could assign one of their fingerprints, say the middle finger, to initiate a 911 emergency call. The combined Touch ID fingerprint and iPhone GPS would be ablet to notify EMS and enable them to call up the patient's history chart as they approach their destination.


House Arrest, Restraining Order Compliance


Apple further notes that the invention may be "used by courts to track compliance with restraining orders or house arrest boundaries. In another example, governments may track compliance diplomatic geographic restrictions." It could likely be used in conjunction with an ankle bracelet so as to send warnings and or attempt to communicate with an individual under house arrest.


The electronic device may report the tracking information periodically or in response to a specific request. When the electronic device compiles data to include in the tracking report, the electronic device may use stored biometric information that was acquired in a recent biometric scan.


Alternatively, compiling data to include in the tracking report may include initiating a fresh biometric scan so that the tracking report correctly identifies the current user of the electronic device. Apple further notes that a biometric scan that is initiated to acquire information for a tracking report may be done discreetly, without the user knowing that the scan is taking place. Alternatively, the user may be alerted that a scan is required and promoted to enter biometric information.


  4. Apple - biometric receipt figs 3,4, 5


Apple's patent FIGS. 3 and 4 illustrated various flow charts relating tracking methods; Patent FIG. 5 is a flow chart illustrating a first method of determining the identity of a device user.


Automatic Association of Authentication Credentials with Biometrics


In a third biometrics related patent, Apple states that their invention relates to systems and methods for automatic association of authentication credentials with biometrics. A computing device may receive authentication information from a user. Such authentication information may include one or more passwords, one or more pin codes, and/or other such authentication information.

Within a time-out period (such as a few seconds as part of a unified gesture/action gather and validate a biometric) from receipt of the authentication information, the computing device may receive one or more biometrics from the user. Such biometrics may include one or more fingerprints, retinal images, and/or other such biometrics. The computing device may assign one or more authentication credentials to the one or more biometrics. The assigned authentication credentials may be based on at least one of the authentication credentials associated with previously received authentication information. In this way, authentication credentials may be automatically associated with user biometrics without requiring users to participate in any potentially burdensome enrollment processes.


Yet in other implementations, the computing device may assign different authentication credentials to the biometric based on one or more user preferences, defaults, security policies, and/or enterprise policies. In various implementations, the authentication credentials assigned to the biometric may be altered, such as by adding and/or removing one or more authentication credentials. Such alteration may be performed in response to a received user request, changed enterprise policy, changed security policy, fraud alert, and/or other such factor.


Biometric Capture for Unauthorized User Identification


In a fourth biometrics related patent, Apple wants to ID unauthorized users. Apple states that "preventing access by unauthorized users to a computing device may not be sufficient in all cases. For example, some authentication systems may be overcome with sufficient effort and may not be able to prevent access by unauthorized users forever. Users of computing devices may desire to be able to identify one or more unauthorized users who have attempted to utilize the user's computing device. Such identification of unauthorized users who have attempted to utilize a computing device may assist a user in prosecuting unauthorized users, preventing further access in situations where the computing device has not been stolen, recovering the computing device in situations where the computing device has been stolen, and so on."


In this Apple invention they claim that the invention relates to systems and methods for capturing biometric information for identifying unauthorized users. A computing device may determine to capture biometric information in response to the occurrence of one or more trigger conditions. The trigger condition may be receipt of one or more instructions from one or more other computing devices, detection of potential unauthorized use by the computing device, normal operation of the computing device, and so on. The computing device may obtain biometric information and may store such biometric information. Such biometric information may be one or more fingerprints, one or more images of a current user of the computing device, video of the current user, audio of the environment of the computing device, forensic interface use information, and so on. The computing device may then provide the stored biometric information for identification of one or more unauthorized users.


Stealth Security Panic Command


In a fifth biometrics invention, Apple discusses new security measures that could be implemented using biometrics.


Apple states that "Electronic devices, such as mobile or cellular phones, may be equipped with functionality for contacting emergency services in an expedited manner. For example, a mobile phone may prominently display instructions for contacting "911" or other emergency services in a way that by-passes password entry or log-in screens. However, when a user utilizes a mobile phone to contact emergency services in this way, the fact that he is doing so can be readily apparent to someone watching his actions. Thus, in a situation where the device owner is forced to unlock or otherwise use his phone by an assailant, contacting emergency services in the conventional manner may not be practical. Accordingly, in conventional systems, a user is unable to comply with an assailant's commands, while at the same time discreetly contacting emergency services.


In this patent filing, Apple states that "In one implementation of the methods described herein, the user predetermines that the command indicated by a particular finger or sequence of fingers is a stealth command to be executed by the electronic without any apparent indication that the stealth command is being executed.


The user could use this command to call emergency services without that fact being known to an assailant or other aggressive person that prompted the emergency call. In this way, the electronic device implements a "panic command" that may include, for example, transmitting the geographic location of the electronic device, and/or transmitting streaming audio or video from the phone.


Additionally, a "panic command" may cause the electronic device to erase or hide certain data or applications from the memory of the electronic device In this way, sensitive data such as social security numbers and the like are erased so that they cannot be discovered by a perpetrator who steals the electronic device.


Apple's sixth biometrics patent titled "Expedited Biometric Validation" relates to biometric credentialing and, more specifically, to matching input biometric credentials with stored biometrics in an expedient manner.


And finally there's a seventh biometric patent titled "Fingerprint Sensing and Enrollment."  In this latter patent, we see Apple's patent FIG. 3 noted below which illustrates a conceptual drawing of an example of presenting information to a user with respect to interacting with an iPhone (or "image receiving device). In one embodiment, the user is submitting the fingerprint, such as by pressing their finger to the fingerprint recognition sensor, can be presented with information from the processor with respect to whether the user's fingerprint image information can be improved by further collection of fingerprint image information. For a first example, the user's fingerprint image information may be incomplete, or blurry, or subject to noise or other error components, or otherwise subject to improvement. For a second example, the processor may have determined that there were not an adequate number of frames having superior measures of quality, and decided to request the user to submit additional information with respect to the user's fingerprint.

5. Apple's seventh biometrics patent fig. 3

Report Updated 11:30 AM MST: We Discovered an eighth biometrics patent titled "Zero Enrollment," under number 20140003681. To review this patent application, see Apple's invention.


A Note for Tech Sites covering our Report: We ask tech sites covering our report to kindly limit the use of our graphics to one image. Thanking you in advance for your cooperation. 


130. PA - Bar - NoticePatently Apple presents a detailed summary of patent applications with associated graphics for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for full and accurate details. Revelations found in patent applications shouldn't be interpreted as rumor or fast-tracked according to rumor timetables.


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