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Biometric IoT sensors shape the future of user interfaces

Biometric interfaces unlock new capabilities and risks with IoT sensors, including security based on human features or virtual assistants tailored to recognize voices.

Biometric IoT sensors introduce new interfaces and capabilities for devices but also present implications for IoT builders and suppliers to consider.

An interface is defined as a shared boundary or point of interaction between humans and technology. For decades, screens have dominated how people think about interacting with technology. The last decade brought about a sea change in interfaces, with the rise of mobile radically shifting how people interact with one another, businesses and objects all around. Sensors, cloud computing and networked infrastructure powered this shift and redefined entire industries, such as taxis and the media; brand experiences, including ordering coffee or turning on the lights; and business itself, such as remote management and enterprise security.

The next decade will de-emphasize screens, as the human body becomes the predominant interface for technology. Biometric interfaces have been around for decades, but recent advancements in sensors, software and big data processing now power significant growth, a 22.9% compound annual growth rate, according to Tractica's report "Global Biometrics Market Revenue to Reach $15.1 Billion by 2025." In particular, the convergence of AI with IoT powers unstructured data processing at scale and creates new uses across sectors.

Biometric data promotes new uses and partnership opportunities

Certain biometrics lend themselves to uses that traditional IoT devices did not support, including biometric authentication, user-specific commands and health monitoring. For example, an electronically recorded voiceprint offers a uniquely identifiable representation of an individual, akin to a fingerprint. Speech recognition alters the interface of search or device commands and serves as speaker recognition.

Voiceprints create opportunities for multi-tenant or multiuser personalization in smart home or industrial control experiences, but also a host of new uses across sectors, including payment from devices, pharmaceutical dispensing or adherence, automotive access controls, public safety and security, health and wellness monitoring, recycling, secondhand use and security.

New capabilities tap biometric sensors

New capabilities complement the drive toward ecosystem-based business models, as partnerships support improved user experiences, service marketplaces and novel monetization opportunities.

Biometric data introduces new risks

Biometric data also introduces new risks that are absent from nonbiometric product engagement or performance metrics. For example, using biometric IoT devices:

  • May be subject to existing regulations, such as the Biometric Information Privacy Act or Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.
  • May incur greater harm or sanction in the event of misuse or abuse.
  • May involve more intimate and sensitive data, such as a medical condition or learning disorder.
  • Carries a higher risk of breach because health data is more highly valued on the dark web market.
  • Carries irrevocable risks, such as identity theft of DNA, versus revocable risk such as replacing a password.

Adding to the complexity, IoT builders may not be aware of biometric-specific risks, liabilities or downstream effects. This underscores the need for multidisciplinary collaboration on IoT product and business model design, as well as data security and lifecycle management.

People will no longer read screens, but the screens will read them -- not only interactions and behaviors, but bodies and physical and emotional reactions, both conscious and even subconscious.

Biometric data as triangulated data in the quest for context

IoT builders must also evaluate the opportunities and risks in the context of triangulating, fusing and inferencing multiple data sources together. This common practice compounds the value of data by driving more contextual product experiences or altogether new services. For example, Amazon's Alexa applies multiple data sources to automatically learn individuals' voices to adjust its functionality. Alexa applies speaker recognition to give specific permissions or skills based on the user's age.

Each biometric IoT sensor introduces new considerations for sensor arrays. The use of heart rate variability sensing measures the time interval between heartbeats and is affected by age, health status and range of mental, physical and emotional experiences. Imagine the contextual experiences possible when combining heart rate variability data with diet, sleep, movement and social interactions. Imagine further, the benefits to caretakers, elderly, parents or athletes.

Manufacturers and IoT designers are confronted with new design questions, such as:

  • What are the parameters for using a biometric sensor for each use?
  • What new uses are possible?
  • What are the accuracy thresholds and risks of machine error?
  • How will the data be applied to achieve customer outcomes?
  • How might the data support services to under-serviced markets?
  • How might data be misused, whether inadvertently or nefariously?

Awareness is more important than ever

New interfaces always disrupt traditional industries and models, but biometric IoT interfaces merit renewed attention and communication with consumers and employees. People will no longer read screens, but the screens will read them -- not only interactions and behaviors, but bodies and physical and emotional reactions, both conscious and even subconscious. Biometric data can be applied to diverse consumer products, improved security and wellbeing, but they also place undue risk to consumers and businesses alike. Now, more than ever, IoT providers have a unique opportunity, not only to streamline UX with biometrics, but foster renewed human trust through humane designs.

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