Big Tech Turns to Biometric Innovation


Over on, I publish what we call Companies that We Follow. The goal is to look for interesting new technologies by exploring what some of the most innovative companies in the world are working on. After a while, you see a lot of different technologies and sometimes you start to notice patterns. Analysis of biometric data has been a major area of new research among electronics manufacturers in recent years, and over the last several months we have seen quite a few biometric innovations from a variety of very large tech corporations.

One recent innovation that we saw came from Microsoft, and it related to something that you might not ordinarily associate with the giant from Redmond, Washington…namely, a mood detection device. Stress is something that everyone experiences throughout their daily life, and biometric systems for determining mood and stress levels are not new. However, reducing stress and the associated negative impacts, like chronic health conditions and poor work performance, is an important goal that could easily result in a meaningful increase in productivity in the workplace. To tackle this problem, Microsoft came up with a device that uses a microcontroller capable of processing biometric data about a person’s stress levels. The patent application filed, U.S. Patent Application No. 20140085181claims priority to a provisional patent application filed in September 2012, which is incorporated by reference. The device described in this patent application includes a flexible material that morphs its shape to create a representation of the received biometric information. Stress information can also be output to a display that lets a person view stress and mood information and add their own personal input. This system could receive biometric data signals indicative of mood from a variety of sources, including a heart rate monitor, galvanic skin monitor, camera or microphone. For instance, a camera and image processing system could determine a change in mood based on an eyebrow shift or another facial expression. Along with changing shapes, the device can indicate a person’s mood through sounds or light display.

When we last looked at Toshiba, we similarly found several biometric inventions, which relate to biometric systems designed to identify persons in a variety of settings. Improvements to person recognition apparatuses which rely on facial recognition technologies are the subject of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140270370, which is titled Person Recognition Apparatus and Person Recognition Method. This patent application would protect a technology that can better recognize facial features in moving image data in order to properly identify a person and retrieve an image of that person. The apparatus and method could be implemented by a security camera positioned at a street corner or in other public places. Another camera-operated system for identifying people based on biometrics is discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140281580, filed under the title Rewarding System. The technology discussed within this patent application is capable of collecting biometric information for identifying persons without attracting the notice of the person. The information that can be obtained includes gender, age, facial expression and the existence of any accessories, such as glasses. Privacy advocates will likely have a lot to say about this technology. 

More recently we explored a few other interesting patent applications from Fujitsu, which aimed at practical uses for a couple of different biometric technologies. Methods of preventing an operator of a vehicle from becoming drowsy while driving is the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140296723, filed under the title Heartbeat Signal Processing Method. The patent application discloses the use of a heartbeat signal processing method for detecting first and second heartbeat signals and amplifying those signals based on calculated DC and AC voltage levels. The technology improves accuracy in detecting driver status through the use of steering wheel-mounted electrodes by reducing noise caused by other signal processing. Better techniques of using infrared light irradiation of a person’s palms for biometric authentication of that individual are described within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140294251, entitled Vein Authentication Method, Image Processing Method, and Vein Authentication Device. It explains a vein authentication method using a processor to convert pixel values of an image into frequency components, further filtering those components into low-frequency and high-frequency depending on the spatial relationship of veins within those image components. The innovative system is meant to improve the accuracy of vein authentication methods by reducing the effect of surface reflection of light on the surface of a person’s palms. Our review of Fujitsu innovation earlier in the year also uncovered another biometric innovation. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140114201, which is titled Portable Information Terminal, describes a mobile terminal including a microphone, electrodes and other components capable of detecting biometric signals. This terminal apparatus is designed to aid in blood pressure monitoring among many individuals.

But large companies are not the only ones that are interested in biometric inventions.  When we recently profiled Data Security and Identity Theft Prevention, we came across an invention that uses biometric data of a consumer to validate their identity and their transactions. U.S. Patent No. 8799088, entitled System and Method for Validating User Identity Information in Financial Transactions, protects a method of validating the identity of someone using a financial services provider card by collecting biometric from that card user at the point of a transaction. The biometric data collected in this way includes digital photographs or digital signatures which can be compared to photo and signature data stored by the system. A solo inventor, Leigh M. Rothschild of Sunny Isles Beach, FL, is responsible for this innovation and has been awarded this patent.

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