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Explainer: What is ‘body odor’ biometrics and how can it be measured?

Explainer: What is ‘body odor’ biometrics and how can it be measured?

There are different types of biometrics and different ways to measure them. The concept of ‘body odor’ biometrics is still in its infancy, but some applications that rely on this technology are increasingly emerging (albeit in academia only at this time).

So what is body odor (BO) biometrics, and how can it be measured precisely? We break it down here, analyzing research published in December, 2022 on PMC PubMed Central.

What is ‘body odor’ biometrics?

At a basic level, body odor recognition is a contactless physical biometric (as opposed to a behavioral biometric), which aims to confirm an individual’s identification by analyzing the olfactory properties of the human body smell. 

Human bodies emit a very complex range of molecules, which can be non-volatile or volatile, and vary based on the individual’s immune system, genetics, environment, diet and stress.They can, therefore, change based on age, gender, climate, and living habits.

These molecules are emitted through various areas of the human body, so researchers typically classify them into three groups: perspiration (skin odor), odor released from the oral cavity (exhaled breath), and odor released from human excreta (urine). 

How can it be measured?

Capturing individuals’ unique smell is possible via gas sensors, such as a metal oxide sensor for detecting volatile organic compounds.

Sensors could be placed against body parts like the armpits or the back of the hands in a way that is non-intrusive, according to the literature.

Therefore, BO recognition is a physical but contactless biometric, which can be measured by automated electronic devices that can mimic human olfactory patterns.

According to researchers, a variety of quantitative measures are available for the analysis of BO biometrics, such as concentration and evident severity measurement.

At the same time, since BO biometrics could change based on the aforementioned circumstances (and additional ones, such as using perfumes), when used for authentication, it may be sensible to use multimodal biometrics relying on a separate factor.

What about privacy concerns?

Remote biometric technologies are often associated with privacy concerns. In the case of BO biometrics, analyzing body odor can determine a person’s health, whether they are under stress, and what medications they are on.

Body odor analysis can also determine the recent activities one has been involved in, such as sexual intercourse, or the ‘emotions’ of a person, including error, anger, disgust or happiness.

Privacy concerns, in this sense, are not dissimilar to those expressed about emotion recognition and could be used unethically against individuals without their knowledge.

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