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How a N.B. research team wants to identify people through their footsteps

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N.B. research team wants to identify people through their footsteps
WATCH: A team of researchers at the University of New Brunswick are stepping into new biometric security territory they believe may one day replace facial recognition and fingerprint scanners. Shelley Steeves reports – Aug 9, 2023

A team of researchers at the University of New Brunswick is stepping into new biometric security territory they believe may one day replace facial recognition and fingerprint scanners.

“This sort of technology could be an alternative to existing approaches like fingerprints or facial recognition, which have really been challenged during COVID with things like face masks or people not wanting to contact other surfaces,” said Erik Scheme, who is a professor and associate director of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.

His team is developing a first-of-its-kind security system that uses footsteps to verify people’s identities.

Scheme is tapping into the expertise of top students from Tunisia and India to advance their groundbreaking system, which he says can distinguish between people based on their personal gaits.

“The way you roll your foot over one way or the other as you go from your heel to your toe,” said Scheme, who said the technology generates a heat map of the pressure points that, much like fingerprints, are unique to every individual.

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Mayssa Rekik, an advanced technologies undergraduate at the Tunisia-based University of Carthage. She is one of 168 international students in Atlantic Canada this summer helping to solve tough innovation challenges through a unique initiative called the Mitacs Globalink Research Internship program.

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The tile technology developed by P.E.I.-based Stepscan Technologies is currently installed in Fredericton’s Cyber Centre, where Rekik demonstrates how the tiles pick up on an individual’s personal gate.

“As I am walking the floor is identifying who I am,” Rekik said.

“This is the first installation of gait-based recognition technology to be embedded in the floor of an existing office building and it’s really allowing us to test how these systems could operate in the wild for the first time,” Scheme said.

Ala Salehi is a UNB electrical engineering master’s student also working on the project.

“You can use it in airports and office and home — depends on the application that you are looking for,” Salehi said.

But what the team believes will be most appealing to users is the technology’s discretion.

“Some people around the world are pushing back on the use of video,” said Scheme, who said it is nearly impossible for a person to mimic someone else’s gait.

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“It is both more private but also harder to imitate as well.”

The technology is still very much in the research stages. The team is collecting gait analyses of 200 test subjects to create a database to be used by other researchers around the globe.

“You can think of one day walking into a location without even having to identify yourself because as you walk that is the identification itself,” Scheme said.

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