By Steve Guntli
A Blaine company is attempting to break new ground in the technology field with an unusual new idea: ear biometrics.
Biometrics refers to the technique of using one’s body as a method of authentication or identification. Most commonly, this is done through fingerprinting or retinal scanning, but it can also be done using your face, voice or handprint. Michael Boczek, founder of Descartes Biometrics in Blaine, is hoping to break new ground in biometrics through ear scanning.
Boczek launched Descartes Biometrics in April 2013. Boczek named the company after the 17th-century philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes, best known for his famous statement “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”).
“Descartes was a person that redefined the way people think about things,” Boczek said. “That’s what we’re trying to do, so we wanted to pay homage to him.”
Boczek spent 12 years working for computer giant Oracle in the San Francisco bay area, but found he wasn’t satisfied with the work.
“I decided it was time to stop executing on other people’s strategies and plans and start working on my own,” he said.
Boczek saw a lot of potential in the biometrics field, particularly as a source of security for mobile devices.
“I want a world without PINs and passwords, where your identity is your key,” he said. “Our mobile devices are part of our collective reality. We use them for everything, but half the people who use the devices don’t use any kind of security at all.”
Boczek said using the ear as an identification method seemed the most natural fit for smartphones.
“We picked the ear because it’s natural and intuitive,” he said. “We press our phone to our ear dozens of times a day, and our ears are as unique as our fingerprints.”
Descartes launched its first product, ERGO, in January 2014. The app reads pressure points on a person’s ear, while also accounting for the area and radius of the person’s ear and the tilt of the phone. The app launched for Android phones and was displayed at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
“We looked at ERGO as the first step in a two-part process,” Boczek said. “The phone could recognize your ear through touch, now we wanted to use the camera to scan the ear.”
Descartes launched Helix in January. The app scans the user’s ear using the front-facing camera to take pictures of the ear.
The company also has a program called Oath, an app for tablet devices that scans the user’s handprint.
Boczek envisions dozens of uses for the technology, but he’s focusing his efforts on four specific fields: law enforcement, finance, health care and transportation.
“Imagine you’re in a car accident, and a simple scan could tell the EMTs about any insurance information, preexisting conditions, allergic reactions or anything else they need to know,” he said. “Or if a police officer had the technology integrated with a chest-mounted camera. He could quickly identify the individual.”
Boczek is in the process of courting investors for his technology. He believes ear biometrics have a future, and some tech titans are seemingly in agreement. In June of this year, Amazon received a patent for ear-scanning technology for their smartphones, and Yahoo Labs has been researching ear scanning since April.
“Neither company has a product, they’ve just done the research,” Boczek said. “So we’re two years ahead of these tech giants, and we’re just this little Blaine company.”
Boczek said using local talent has been a priority for him. All 10 of his employees are Western Washington University graduates, and Descartes has a development center in Bellingham located near the WWU campus.
“We really want to be a member of the community here,” he said. “All of our employees are really passionate and smart. They get what we’re trying to do.”
For more information, visit descartesbiometrics.com.