Ears the new way of airport security

Airport security could soon be looking at the shape of your ears before allowing you into the country. Researchers have discovered that each person’s ears have a unique shape and have created a system that is able to scan them. The scans can then be compared with a database of ear shapes to identify whose they are. They hope that the system can be used to take pictures of a person’s ear as they walk through passport control.

Professor Mark Nixon, who led the team from the school of electronics and computer science at the University of Southampton, said: “There are a whole load of structures in the ear that you can use to get a set of measurements that are unique to an individual.”

“With biometrics, a lot of the problems is what happens when people get old. With facial recognition, the systems are often confused by crows feet and other signs of ageing. Your ears, however, age very gracefully. They grow proportionally larger and your lobe gets a bit more elongated, but otherwise your ears are fully formed from birth.”

Facial recognition software, for example, is often confused by changes in expression so people need to maintain a neutral expression and in some cases even avoid wearing make up.

Retina scanning trials have also been used, but these require subjects to look directly at a scanner at close range. The ear scanning technique uses a technology called image ray transform that highlights all the tubular structures of the ear and measures them. Professor Nixon believes ear scanning could take place as passengers walk though security gates, for example, by placing cameras on either side to capture an image of their ears.

Professor Nixon and his team tested 252 images of different ears and found the system was able to match each ear to a separate image held in its database with 99 per cent accuracy. They recently presented their results at the Fourth International Conference on Biometrics.