Apple wants to improve the security of Face ID and other visual biometric systems to eliminate the so-called “twin problem,” by taking advantage of the unique and hard-to-copy patterns of the veins that reside under the skin.
Biometric security systems such as Face ID and Touch ID provide user data protection in a relatively easy-to-understand package. It is also simple to use, as the user does not need to remember any passwords or codes, as their face or fingerprint is effectively their account credentials.
While the security is good, they are still fallible in a number of areas, such as the very low false positive rate, which in the case of Face ID is in the order of one in a million.
There are also issues with the ability of people to create very complex masks to trick Face ID, usually in a way far beyond the capabilities of a normal person. Finally, there is the “twin problem,” where facial recognition systems like Face ID could grant access to people who are extremely similar to each other, such as twins or family members.
An example of a venous structure under the skin of a person.
In a patent issued Tuesday by the US Patent and Trademark Office, titled “Vein matching for difficult cases of biometric authentication”, Apple suggests that the answer is not limited to the skin. Specifically, a few millimeters under the skin, as this suggests that the veins could be used as an identifier.
While facial features can be easily copied, vein patterns differ tremendously between individuals, even twins. Since they are also under the skin and occupy 3D space, it is also extremely difficult to create a counterfeit face that takes into account the venous structure without the extreme cooperation of the subject, nor medically invasive maneuvers.
The system involves creating a 3D map of a user’s veins using subepidermal imaging techniques, such as an infrared sensor in a camera capturing flood and speckle patterns from illuminating infrared illuminators. the user’s face. This is somewhat similar to how Face ID works today, in that infrared light is emitted in patterns on a user’s face and by an imaging device, but Apple’s patent is specific on vein detection rather than the outside.
Like other biometric methods, the system must determine if there is a sufficiently close match between the scanned data and the previously taken version used to register the user. If the match is close enough, the system effectively confirms that the user is authorized and access is granted.
Flowchart for performing a biometric verification of a user’s face and veins.
Apple files numerous patent applications each week, but while the ideas offer areas of interest for Apple’s research and development efforts, that does not guarantee that the idea will appear in a future product or service.
The patent lists its inventors as Micah P. Kalscheur and Feng Tang, and was filed in February 2018. The patent application first surfaced during research in March 2019.
Apple has studied many different ways to take advantage of a person’s veins for various purposes. A related patent granted in May 2018 for “Venous Imaging Using Pulsed Radiation Detection” reuses the concept of infrared emission and reception to monitor blood vessel patterns, but adds time-of-flight calculations of the pulses to produce a three-dimensional map.
A similar concept was also envisioned for Apple, using a bright-field camera to detect patterns of veins, arteries, blood perfusion in the skin and tendons, and patterns of hair follicles, among other items, that could uniquely identify a user. An Apple’s venous scan can also be used to detect non-contact gestures, such as hand or finger movements, that might trigger actions on the wearable device.
Apple is also studying how the veins in a user’s palm could be scanned for Touch ID type recognition, except that the user taps the entire screen of the device with their hand.