Canadians have been using fingerprint and facial recognition technology for security purposes, but a team of researchers at the University of New Brunswick is taking biometric security one step further by studying footsteps. Erik Scheme and Mayssa Rekik are part of a team that installed electronic tiles from Stepscan Technologies to create a heat map of the pressure distribution of someone’s feet as they walk. This data will be used to develop 3D models and deep learning frameworks to identify individuals based on their gait.
The interest in biometric technology is growing as businesses seek alternatives to traditional methods of access, such as keys, cards, and passwords. Fingerprint and facial scanners have been attempted, but they are not foolproof. Lighting conditions and accessories can challenge facial scanners, while gloves and concerns about touching surfaces pose difficulties for fingerprint-based systems. Gait recognition offers a contactless and continuous authentication method without the need to stop walking.
The applications for gait recognition technology are numerous. It can be used for security purposes at airports, building entrances, and more. However, enthusiasm for biometric systems has tempered due to litigation and controversies surrounding the use of such technology. Some cities in the United States have banned the use of facial recognition technology, and certain states have regulated the collection and use of biometric data. Canada is waiting to see how the landscape evolves before implementing further regulations.
The research being conducted by Scheme’s team is done carefully and with the consent of participants. Cyber Centre employees and specialized testers provide their data while walking barefoot, in different shoes, or while carrying objects. All data is de-identified and used in an anonymous repository. The research aims to determine the uniqueness of an individual’s gait and whether technology can detect changes to it under various circumstances.
Machine learning models will play a significant role in understanding gait characteristics that remain consistent even with impediments or changes in footwear. However, before gait-based biometrics can be implemented, companies must consider privacy laws and regulations. The privacy commissioner requires meaningful consent for the collection of sensitive information, including biometric data. In Quebec, the creation of a biometric database must be disclosed to the access to information commission.
Despite potential future regulations, biometrics are expected to stay and become a part of daily life. The research being conducted in Canada is paving the way for future biometric innovations and improving the understanding of gait recognition technology.