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Breath recognition shows promise as secure chemical biometric identifier

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Breath recognition shows promise as secure chemical biometric identifier

Researchers at Kyushu University, in Fukuoka, Japan, have developed a new way to scan and identify people’s breath. The olfactory sensor, created in collaboration with University of Tokyo, analyzes the compounds in breath samples to create a unique biometric profile, according to a study published in Chemical Communications.

Using a sixteen-sensor array to detect 28 different compounds viable for measurement and identification, the process then feeds the data through a machine learning system that analyzes the data and generates a profile.

On separate sample groups of 6 and 20 people, the system was able to accurately match profiles with individuals about 98 percent of the time. Like face biometrics, accuracy would presumably be affected by mask-wearing.

Biometrics involving human chemical composition are not wholly new. Percutaneous gas emitted from skin has been explored as an option—but it produces a relatively low percentage of volatile compounds, compared to breath. Researchers in Spain even proposed using body odor as a biometric; experiments they ran in 2014 showed B.O. yielding an accuracy rate of 85 percent, and breath research goes back even further.

Chaiyanut Jirayupat, one of the authors of the Kyushu U study, pointed to the security advantages of chemical biometrics. “Physical characteristics can be copied, or even compromised by injury,” he said, calling scent “a new a new class of biometric authentication, essentially using your unique chemical composition to confirm who you are.”

If this all sounds like a lot of hot air, the researchers are the first to admit that their system is still not blowing at full gale. Their first round of test subjects was made to fast for six hours before giving samples. Theoretically, for now, a buttery slice of garlic bread or a bite of funky kimchi could trick the system, allowing spicy spies to practice a kind of gastronomic subterfuge.

“We’ve developed a good foundation,” said Takeshi Yanagida, who led the study and is hopeful that a larger sensor array will help combat halitosis hocus-pocus. “The next step will be to refine this technique to work regardless of diet.”

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