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SignWave Unlock: Q&A with Lisa McCauley, Battelle’s GM of Cyber Innovations


Battelle is a huge independent, non-profit research and development organization focused on with a wide range of offerings for large government clients, and also for consumers, which made a recent foray into biometrics with the launch of the Battelle SignWave Unlock.

The SignWave Unlock is an app for the Leap Motion 3D controller, which relies on hand geometry and allows user authentication on computers using the Leap Motion controller.

Battelle was among the first developers to work with Leap Motion, which also recently launched. It’s a USB peripheral that lets users pinch, grab and use other gesture motions to control their computers.

The Biometrics Research Group anticipates that gesture controllers will play a large and continual role in consumer and enterprise applications. 

According to a new market research report, the total market value of touchless sensing and gesture recognition market is expected to reach $15.02 billion by 2018, growing at a CAGR of 34.94 percent from 2013-2018.

Shortly after launch, reports emerged that Battelle’s SignWave Unlock had been spoofed by security researchers at Malwarebytes, raising questions about the authentication process.

“I wasn’t even trying to hack it,” Malwarebytes researcher Jean Taggart told VentureBeat’s John Koetsier. “I was just showing a coworker. He walked up, put his hand over my keyboard, and logged into my computer.”

BiometricUpdate.com had a chance to talk with Lisa McCauley, Battelle’s General Manager of Cyber Innovations about her role, the company, Signwave Unlock and about the recent spoof.

McCauley began as a researcher for Battelle working on NASA contracts related to the Space Shuttle and other launch vehicle systems, and became a program manager studying space exploration technologies and later building experimental hardware that flew on the Space Shuttle with variants on the International Space Station.  She’s also run the company’s electronics and avionics systems product line and led operations for Battelle’s National Security organization, before taking the helm of cyber innovations.

BU: Recently there was a report that the Battelle SignWave app was spoofed by a couple of security researchers at Malwarebytes, but I understand that the app uses an adaptive algorithm that evolves as it captures more data.  Can you expand on this?

LM: The Leap Motion Controller is a new type of device that provides unique data.  Our SignWave Unlock app uses that data and a novel machine-learning, statistically-based algorithm to distinguish hand geometry.  Before launch we collected as much data as we could, however we did not get the statistically required data for our algorithm to be able to discriminate between users with a higher level of accuracy.  We implemented anonymous data reporting that allows users to opt-in to sending us additional hand data.  Every dataset we receive gives our algorithm more information that it can use to distinguish between users, so the more people that use our software, the better the app.

BU: Also, why hand geometry for the SignWave app? Can you explain what this is and how it works for identification?

LM: Because the Leap Motion Controller is designed specifically to recognize hands, it accomplishes this task really well. The data that comes from the device closely represents what you would expect as data points on your hand, for example fingertip positions and finger lengths.  We use this data to generate a geometric representation of the user that encapsulates the unique characteristics of the hand. We don’t have access to fingerprint or palm print data, thus protecting the privacy of the users while providing access to their computers.

BU: How many downloads of the app have you seen so far?

LM: We’ve had well over 10,000 downloads to date.

BU: Where do you see Battelle in 5 years?

LM: Battelle is the world’s largest independent research and development organization, with over 22,000 employees at more than 130 locations globally. We have a rich history of taking on interesting challenges, and building innovative solutions to problems no one has ever solved.  In five years, I am quite certain we’ll continue to be delivering on that mission in all sorts of new areas for our government and commercial customers.

BU: What challenges does Battelle face in today’s market?

LM: The world faces global security, energy and environmental, and health challenges like never before.  Battelle, like many other companies today, is impacted by declining government funding.  Additionally, while globally R&D funding is increasing, that is not necessarily true in the U.S., as outlined in the 2013 Global R&D Funding Forecast published by R&D Magazine and Battelle.  Nonetheless, I believe that we are well positioned – with smart people developing new technologies in focused business areas – to continue to provide our clients with innovative solutions to their most difficult problems.

BU: Can you talk a bit about the development process working with the Leap Motion controller?

LM: We applied to be part of the Leap Motion Controller early developer program last year, and were accepted as one of the top 100 developers, so we had access to early versions of the hardware and software.  We developed our algorithm, and benefited from feedback from other Leap Motion developers prior to launch.  Today, we’re benefiting from the feedback of our users who’ve downloaded Battelle SignWave Unlock from the Airspace app store, and particularly from those who’ve opted in to provide their anonymous data to improve the product.

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