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Heartbeat Biometric Security Device Being Developed

Heartbeat graphic


Updated 8 Oct. 2019. A national lab and security company are developing a device using a person’s unique heart beat pattern as a signature for controlling access. The one-year agreement between Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Aquila Inc., also in Albuquerque, involves sharing in-kind resources rather than an exchange of funds.

Sandia Lab needs rigorous security measures, since the lab deals with highly sensitive U.S. government nuclear and national security research. The lab has long emphasized the need for tight security access and movement tracking, including use of biometric indicators such as fingerprints. Aquila develops cybersecurity and threat-detection systems that aim to reduce vulnerabilities to organizations and individuals. The company offers wearable radiation and biological agent detection solutions, with some technologies licensed from Sandia Lab.

The agreement calls for Sandia Lab and Aquila to jointly develop a prototype wearable device, worn on the wrist or a chest strap, that records the heart’s electrical activity like an electrocardiogram. Rather than detecting medical problems, however, the device will record a person’s heart beat pattern. These electrical signal patterns form unique signatures that can identify individuals, much like fingerprints. The device will then export the signal pattern to an external reader.

The device will adapt software written by another company, B-Secur, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, U.K. B-Secur offers a miniaturized system called HeartKey that records and measures electrocardiogram signals for medical detection and biometric security. HeartKey measures specific cardiac signals, to which it applies a series of algorithms that the company says can extract a unique signature for each person. B-Secur says it uses that signature to identify an individual’s data in its own databases.

“B-Secur’s HeartKey includes the ability to identify and authenticate an individual from their unique electrocardiogram signature,” says Steve Kadner, Aquila’s executive vice-president, in a Sandia Lab statement. “The objective for the new system is to meet or exceed the current fingerprint or iris readers for access control and position tracking purposes both operationally and economically.”

A team from Sandia Lab and Aquila will develop and test a prototype wearable heart signal device for technical and economic feasibility. Sandia Lab is offering its background in security systems as well as its physical plant as a test site for the device. Sandia nuclear engineer Steven Horowitz says the lab has “the expertise in security systems and testing facilities that will allow us to emulate real-world characteristics to test access-control prototypes.”

The deal between Sandia Lab and Aquila is called a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, or Crada, that allows for transfer of government-owned intellectual property or know-how to a private company or institution for mutual benefit. Crada agreements are used to define collaborative projects, often without funds payments from one party to another. Sandia Lab says in fiscal year 2018, it signed 42 Crada deals.

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