A new body-based authentication system from a company called Microchip Technology could be used to secure--and to some degree personalize--personal possessions like guns and smartphones. The system uses the human body as a conductor of electricity between a unique device like a handgun and a keyfob in the owner's pocket. Think of it as a wireless communication system that accomplishes the same goal as James Bond's palmprint smart gun in Skyfall or Judge Dredd's Lawgiver, but minus the movie slickness.
As reported by Technology Review, the technology's called BodyCom. It's built to be cheaper and simpler than other similar authentication technologies, and obviously it lacks the sophistication of palm-coded sci-fi weapons. Safety goes out the window as soon as the wrong person gets ahold of the fob, since the technology doesn't distinguish between people.
But at a time when gun security is a hot topic, that simplicity could give BodyCom a leg up over other smart guns. The rest of the field hasn't caught up with James Bond's technology, either--rather than reading palms, they typically rely on a magnetic ring worn by the gun owner. A newer design requires users to type a pin code into a watch before firing.
BodyCom works with capacitive technology a bit like the smartphone screens we tap and swipe every day. When you touch a base unit--that would be a gun, in our earlier example--it sends a 125 kilohertz signal through your body to the fob presumably located in your pocket. That device then responds with an 8MHz signal that gives the all-clear.
There's no reason the technology needs to be used just for guns.
The real appeal of BodyCom is its flexibility. There's no reason the technology needs to be used for guns, necessarily. As Microchip Technology points out, it could be used to unlock your front door by touch, arm or disarm a security system, or grant access to dangerous power tools. They claim it would cost only $3-4 to add to existing devices, and they're selling dev kits for only $150.
And one of the existing implementation of BodyCom is actually pretty cool.
An Italian company embedded the fobs in motorcycle helmets, requiring riders to put on headgear before going for a joyride. BodyCom may not ultimately be the system that we use to lock down our personal devices, but the more attached we get to our phones and wearable electronics, the more likely we are to secure them for our eyes (or, at least, fingers) only.