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Geektastic: New biometric gadgets read heartbeats, deploy minicams

Jay MacDonald

This week’s gadget beat features two new geek-tastic contenders in the ongoing quest for a foolproof card ID verification system that doesn’t involve collecting bodily fluids.

In the new biometric wrinkle, a Canadian startup called Bionym unveiled its Nymi wristband that — be still, my beating heart — identifies you by your heartbeat.

Yes, it turns out your ticker produces a unique cardiac signature, even when you exercise or, in this case, take her to Jared. Who knew? When you press a button on the band, Nymi’s built-in electrocardiograph captures and stores your heart signature while an itsy bitsy Bluetooth radio transmits the data to nearby wireless receivers, including mobile and wireless point-of-sale terminals.

It gets weirder. Nymi also comes equipped with a motion sensor that allows the wearer to indicate intent, so you can do things like unlock your electronic car door lock with a casual wrist-bump.

Nymi is expected to retail for less than $100 when it’s released next year. No word yet on whether it will come in a Hello Kitty edition.

Meanwhile, an Israeli company called SmartMetric is taking the Swiss Army Knife approach by combining two biometric favorites — a miniature fingerprint scanner and a super-small camera for facial recognition — onto a single card or key ring. Interestingly, the company touts its yet-to-be-named gizmo as the more secure ID verification alternative to smartphones, which can be hacked, it points out, because they’re constantly connected to a network.

SmartMetric previously incorporated its fingerprint scanner into a Tootsie Roll-size MedicalKeyring that holds 8 gigs of X-rays, mammograms, CT scans and electronic health records in a biometrically secure device, as it requires your fingerprint to open it.

The payment industry’s pursuit of noninvasive identity verification has taken some quirky turns over the years. If you’re old enough to remember metallic charge plates, you may recall that a note from your mother was good enough for merchants back then. A second form of ID then became the sine qua non until it dawned on us that a pickpocket could easily score both your credit card and ID in those nonphoto driver’s license days.

Biometric contenders exploded in the 1990s with the rise of high-speed personal computing. Fingerprinting, voice recognition, palm geometry and iris scans all became flavors of the month. Some made inroads into secure access control systems; others churned up nightmarish visions of identity thieves obtaining appendages or eyeballs to access ATMs.

But so far, biometrics have yet to find their place in a legacy point-of-sale system that still mostly speaks mag stripe and PIN and little else.

Will the Nymi wristband or the SmartMetric whatzit be the long-sought killer bio-app?

I don’t know, but I’m open to a Hello Kitty test model.

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