Finnish technology may help curb mobile phone theft

Thieves may soon have to learn how to imitate walking styles if they hope to steal pricey handsets and notebooks, which have become popular targets in recent years.

New technology developed by Finnish scientists aims to curb theft of portable devices by enabling them to detect changes in their owner's physical movements and then lock up to prevent unauthorized usage, the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland said Thursday.

The technology uses sensors installed in a mobile device that measure certain characteristics of a user's gait, which are then stored in the device's memory. The Finnish scientists refer to this process as 3D acceleration measurement.

The sensors continuously measure the user's gait and compare this data with the stored values. Should the values differ, the device automatically freezes and can only be reactivated with a password.

"One of the main advantages of this biometric method is that it is unobtrusive and requires no special action on the part of users," said research director Heikki Ailisto at a webcast news conference.

Compared with passwords and other biometric methods of identification, VTT's sensor-based gait recognition technology confirms identity as a background process without any need for user intervention, Ailisto said.

The Finnish researchers tested the technology over a two-month period on 36 people, of whom 19 were male and 17 female. The identification rate was over 90 percent, they said.

But the new technology is not without its challenges, according to Ailisto. For one, it must learn to deal with users who have different walking styles, caused by choice of shoes, among other things. For another, it requires sensors that are still not widely available, thus affecting their cost.

Despite the challenges, Ailisto expects the patented technology to find its way into new mobile phones, PDAs and notebooks over the next two years.

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