Bionym Nymi

Maker Bionym says its Nymi wristband can ID you via your heartbeat

Users have been able to unlock notebooks and other devices using fingerprints and other biometric methods for years now. Bionym Tuesday unveiled a wristband that the company says can identify you from your heartbeat alone.

The Nymi, as the company calls it, willl retail for less than $100, Bionym said. While users can preorder it via the Web site, it won’t be delivered until 2014, the company said.

Like other biometric sensors, Bionym is pitching the Nymi as an alternative to passwords or PIN codes, allowing users to merely touch the sensor with a fingertip and “log in”.

Bionym Nymi
The Bionym Nymi

Karl Martin, the chief executive of Bionym, said via email that the key to the technology is identifying unique features within a user’s electrocardiogram (ECG).

“It was actually observed over 40 years ago that ECGs had unique characteristics,” Martin said. “The modern research into practical systems goes back about 10 years or so. What we do is ultimately look for the unique features in the shape of the wave that will also be permanent over time. The big breakthrough was a set of signal-processing and machine-learning algorithms that find those features reliably and to turn them into a biometric template.”

How it works

The Nymi is worn on the wrist, with an embedded sensor at the top. When the user touches the sensor, the device detects and identifies the user. Martin said that the Nymi is part of a three factors of security: the unique band itself, your ECG, and a dedicated app, which will be available for  iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac OSX.

The band authenticates the user to the app via low-power Bluetooth, a company spokeswoman said. Once authenticated, the user will remain so until he or she physically moves out of range, the company said.

From an accuracy standpoint, the number of false positives—or misidentifying another person as the correct user—is effectively zero, Martin said.

”We’re not putting out specific numbers just yet because they tend to be misunderstood or taken out of context,’ Martin said of the Nymi’s accuracy. “That being said, we’ve tested on over 1,000 subjects in collaboration with the University of Toronto, and we’re able to achieve higher accuracy than face recognition, and accuracy that is competitive with fingerprint recognition.”

Fingerprint sensors require constant reauthentication, and there’s no guarantee they came from an actual person, Martin claimed. And a token can be lost or stolen, he said.

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