Biometric authentication could soon be revolutionized as scientists in Japan have developed a security tool which identifies people by their breath.
Being able to fully rely on identity check systems is more crucial than ever for public institutions such as airports but also a wide variety of private companies.
Researchers from Kyushu University said their olfactory sensor had an accuracy of 97 percent in a first series of tests.
Chaiyanut Jirayupat from Kyushu University's Institute for Materials Chemistry and Engineering is the first author of the study. Speaking about the potential advantages compared to security checks of fingerprints, voices or palm prints, he said: "These techniques rely on the physical uniqueness of each individual, but they are not foolproof.
"Physical characteristics can be copied, or even compromised by injury.
"Recently, human scent has been emerging as a new class of biometric authentication, essentially using your unique chemical composition to confirm who you are."
Jirayupat said his team of researchers had initially focused on percutaneous gas. This term means compounds produced by individuals' skin.
He explained: "These methods have their limits because the skin does not produce a high enough concentration of volatile compounds for machines to detect."
The scientists then evaluated the possibilities an examination of the human breath would offer.
Jirayupat underlined that the human breath had previously been used to find out whether a person had cancer, diabetes, and COVID-19.
The Kyushu University research group determined a total of 28 compounds in subjects' breath that could be used for biometric authentication.
They went on to develop an olfactory sensor array with 16 channels. Each of them can identify a specific range of compounds. The sensor data of each person's breath was analyzed by a machine which eventually created a unique profile for each individual.
Study leader Takeshi Yanagida pointed out that the researchers had achieved an average accuracy of 97.8 percent during the first series of tests on six people.
Yanigada stressed that this high level of accuracy had remained consistent when the sample size was increased to 20 individuals.
He said: "This was a diverse group of individuals of differing age, sex and nationality. It's encouraging to see such a high accuracy across the board."
Yanigada made clear that further research was needed to introduce the system.
He explained: "In this work, we required our subjects to fast for six hours before testing.
"We've developed a good foundation. The next step will be to refine this technique to work regardless of diet.
"Thankfully, our current study showed that adding more sensors and collecting more data can overcome this obstacle."
The Kyushu University team of researchers cooperated with Tokyo University for this study, which was published June 22 in Chemical Communications journal.
Located in the city of Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu, Kyushu University has 16 faculties, 11 undergraduate schools and 18 graduate schools.
Founded in 1903, it today registers more than 18,000 students from around 90 countries.