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STARTUP STORIES: Unlock Your Phone with Your Ears

Kelsey Pommer, Sr. Coordinator, Digital Media Marketing, Consumer Technology Association (CTA)™

Many of us are familiar with using our fingerprints to log into our smartphones. Descartes Biometrics, a CEA member and CES exhibitor, has created an authentication process that uses your ears. Founded in 2013, Descartes Biometrics provides a unique mobile security solution for both consumers and businesses looking for an alternative authentication process.

With the company’s unique solution, a user essentially takes an “ear-selfie” and the software will compare it to a previously created image record of the ear to ensure you are the one logging into your account. Consumers with Android phones can download an app that will allow them to lock and unlock their phone by scanning one of their ears, while businesses can use Descartes Biometrics software to enhance their own technologies or applications.

We spoke to Michael Boczek, president and CEO, about their technology and their product launches at CES in both 2014 and 2015: 

How did you first get started with Descartes Biometrics?

"Descartes Biometrics was founded in April 2013 with the goal of creating revolutionary biometric authentication solutions for the mobile sector. After more than 20 years of successfully executing other people’s strategy as an “employee,” I decided it was time for me to execute on my own plans as an “employer.” In an odd twist of fate, the difficult economy helped to nudge me down the path of small business ownership. While looking for work, I interviewed with a mobile payments company. During the interview I learned about the many challenges facing the mobile payments business, and in particular, the low adoption rates in the West versus developing economies. Whether real or perceived, there is risk in mobile payments. I concluded that if we could lower the “risk,” we could increase user acceptance and ultimately adoption. The solution seemed obvious, biometric user authentication on mobile devices would provide greater user confidence and transaction security. In that moment, Descartes Biometrics was born.

Our company name pays homage to René Descartes, the 17th century mathematician, philosopher and writer known as the “Father of Modern Philosophy.” Descartes, a key figure in the Scientific Revolution, was the first to describe the physical universe in terms of matter and motion, and he laid the groundwork for modern mathematics and Cartesian geometry (which we use in our software). Descartes is perhaps best known as a visionary philosopher who challenged the conventions of his time using rationalism and doubt to deconstruct ideas before rebuilding knowledge from the ground. His famous statement “Cogito ergo sum,” which means, “I think, therefore I am,” became a fundamental premise of Western philosophy. Much like Descartes, we are reshaping the way people think about identity. 

The company is headquartered in Blaine, WA and has business operations in Bellingham, Wash. and the Silicon Valley."

At CES 2015 in Las Vegas
Can you tell us a little about how the ear recognition technology works?

"Our initial ear biometric authentication technology ERGO, was launched in January 2014 at CES in Las Vegas, Nev.. Since then Descartes Biometrics has launched a tablet product (OATH), which leverages hand geometry and touch patterns and HELIX, the company’s flagship product, which relies on actual ear images using a smartphone’s front facing camera.  HELIX was launched at CES in January 2015.
HELIX™ is the first of its kind: a software-based ear biometric identification and authentication system was designed for smartphones and has evolved to include any camera-equipped device, including body cams and CCTV systems. HELIX provides device, application, and transaction level security as either a local or server-based solution. Ear images can be captured, compared and matched against other images of the same user for authentication or against a database of other persons for identification purposes. HELIX is cost effective solution because it leverages the hardware found on all smartphones and offers the robustness and reliability of fingerprinting with the ease of use found in face recognition systems, though without the associated limitations, such as the changing nature of facial expressions.
How does it work? A smartphone user raises their device to their ear in a natural and intuitive way, as if they were answering the phone. After making contact with the ear, the user pulls the phone away from their head in a steady motion, 3-8 inches. The proximity sensor turns on the front facing camera for ~1 second for the user to capture an “ear selfie.” HELIX pre-processes input images (frames) in an effort to detect the presence of an ear. Once an ear is detected, HELIX™ extracts a portion of the image and generates a template. A unique biometric user profile is generated based on data obtained during the capture process. This profile serves as the basis of comparison for each attempt to identify or authenticate the user. Data and templates are stored on either the local device or externally as a cloud-based solution.

Every piece of software we develop is robust and reliable yet elegant and easy to use, and can be fully integrated into a smart phone, tablet or other portable device. And now with our Enterprise Software Development toolkits (SDKs), enterprise customers can embed our identification software on their industry vertical solutions."

You recently exhibited at CES 2015 and the 2015 CES on the Hill. Tell us a little about your experiences.
"We have exhibited in Eureka Park as a CEA startup member the last two years and received a special invitation to exhibit at CES on the Hill, where we had the opportunity to share our mobile device biometric security solutions to members of Congress, staffers and other invited guests. Had it not been for our membership in CEA and our participation in CES events, we would not be here as a company! They have provided us with a platform to share our technology solutions and company vision, strategy and goals in this fast-paced market. We’ve connected with thousands of professionals over the past two years, from C-level decision makers to line of business technology professionals from companies all over the world in every industry. We have had exposure to the broader market through the incredible press and media coverage at CES."
What have you been up to since CES? Did any of the connections you made at CES help your business?
"I like to say the 'real work' begins after the show. Since CES in January and CES on the Hill this past April, we have continued to execute on our R&D plans to further evolve and maturing our existing technology but also to break ground on new research projects. As it relates to sales and marketing, we have been following up on all the connections we made. This includes delivering product presentations and demonstrations, maturing opportunities, closing deals, delivering our cross-platform SDKs to customers, assisting with custom product implementations, and post-sales support and follow-up, and negotiating strategic partnerships and strategic business alliances. It has been a great year."
What is next for Descartes Biometrics?
"The sky is the limit. I'm pleased to report we are currently in the process of confirming our attendance at CES 2016 in Las Vegas."

See Descartes Biometrics and so much more at CES 2016. Registration opens July 8.