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Researchers develop 3D smartphone biometrics with standard camera

No under-display fingerprinting, maybe face unlock on Android devices
Researchers develop 3D smartphone biometrics with standard camera

A team of researchers at Stanford University say they have invented a 3D camera that is simple and affordable for smartphones, possibly changing how facial authentication is performed on mobile devices. Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Flip 4 will retain their fingerprint sensors on the sides of the phone, and Google’s Pixel 6 line may be releasing face biometrics as an unlock option for the first time since launch.

Stanford team opens develops lidar with standard camera

A Stanford University research team has devised a novel way of integrating acoustic resonance rather than light as a more energy- and space-efficient method of performing 3D imaging. The development potentially paves a future for smartphones to play a bigger role in a variety of biometric applications.

Currently, most smartphone cameras are only able to see in two dimensions, limiting their potential for more complex uses, such as measuring distance. The most viable alternative on the market is utilizing lidar — light detection and ranging – that emits a laser and by gauging how long it takes to return, calculates the distance, speed, and anticipated intersection moment between two objects. Incorporating 3D imaging to standard sensors is possible, but requires jamming a light source and a modulator into the array. The modulator is particularly energy intensive, making this option impractical.

As Okan Atalar, a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering at Stanford explains, “Existing lidar systems are big and bulky, but someday, if you want lidar capabilities in millions of autonomous drones or in lightweight robotic vehicles, you’re going to want them to be very small, very energy efficient, and offering high performance.”

The Stanford team opted to explore acoustic resonance as a solution. By submitting a wafer of lithium niobate to electricity, the piezoelectric material vibrates at consistent and controllable frequencies that modulate light. “What’s more, the geometry of the wafers and the electrodes defines the frequency of light modulation, so we can fine-tune the frequency,” Atalar says. “Change the geometry and you change the frequency of modulation.”

The team says this approach is an extremely energy efficient method that is compact enough to fit into smartphones. The researchers predict the possibility of small-scale lidar on 3D smartphone cameras. Though the press release does not mention biometric applications, it is likely that the development can be used for more accurate facial recognition that protects against 2D spoofing attempts, and fitness apps that have better reads on biomechanical analysis.

It also opens the opportunity to create megapixel-resolution that would allow lidar to detect and identify objects from farther distances. Autonomous driving systems that use lidar may be able to better protect people by distinguishing between a cyclist and a pedestrian earlier and at a longer distance than before. Amin Arbabian, associate professor of electrical engineering and the project’s senior author, says the acoustic resonance method could set a standard for a compact, affordable, and energy-efficient lidar that can be fixed on drones as well.

Samsung sticks to side fingerprint sensors: Report

Samsung will retain fingerprint sensors on the side of their upcoming Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Flip 4 foldable phones and ­pass over rumours of an in-display placement, according to a report by Business Korea.

The move by Samsung bucks a trend among Android phone makers that place their preferred biometric sensor beneath the display. Industry observers said that in-display fingerprint sensors would be included in the next Samsung smartphones due to patent filings by the South Korea conglomerate, but the announcement by Samsung shows a fingerprint sensor on the power button near the side of the phone as the biometric unlocking method.

The patent application describes dual in-display fingerprint sensors for foldable phones like the Galaxy Z Fold 4 that would allow access to a fingerprint sensor whether it was folded or unfurled. One would sit in-display and the other would be located on the side.

However, BGR says the decision to keep the fingerprint sensors on the side was made due to the flip phone design of the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Flip 4 that would force inconveniences like repeatedly unfolding the models to access mobile payments. BGR also notes the increased cost from two fingerprint sensors and the additional space needed to accommodate both.

Possible face biometrics on Pixel 6 Pro smartphone

Hints of evidence suggest that the Google Pixel Pro 6 smartphone has the possibility of facial authentication in a departure from Android’s traditional biometric of fingerprints, according to Pocket Link.

The news site reports a Reddit user found face unlock as an option during set up and further research from 9to5Google discovered references to facial recognition in Pixel 6 Pro Android 12 builds from October 2021. The Reddit user was unable to access the feature in the settings of the Pixel 6 Pro.

Pocket Link theorizes that it is either an option that Google decided against, or a hidden feature that will be released soon for the Pixel 6 Pro. It is a change of pace from Android, as smartphones with the OS have gravitated towards fingerprints as the primary biometric and the Pixel 6 Pro lacks depth sensing, unlike Apple’s Face ID or the Pixel 4. This means the security offered by the feature would not be as robust.

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