You can wear your heart on your sleeve and authenticate everything with Nymi
One of the biggest barriers blocking innovations from reaching a critical mass is the convenience and trust placed in existing habits.
That means incremental improvements will not cut it. Any lasting solution will have to be demonstrably better if it hopes to last.
Nymi is a Toronto-based company seeking to use different technologies to provide solutions contributing to seamless processes. Their first product is the Nymi Band, a wearable band containing a proprietary algorithm that uses an individual’s electrocardiogram (ECG) as a secure biometric identifier.
Nymi founder and Chief Technology Officer Karl Martin said the company began when he and a co-founder were completing their Ph.D.s in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto. The pair began with a vision to commercialize the biometric technologies they developed during their research. After receiving some grants, they attempted to license those technologies.
After two years they learned a pair of important lessons, Mr. Martin recalled. The first was they needed to bring the product directly to market and not license it.
The second involved a complete philosophical shift, both for them and the industry.
“The general problem of identity authentication wasn’t going to be solved by simply replacing passwords with biometrics,” Mr. Martin explained. “It would be solved by changing the current paradigm of putting the burden on the user to prove who they are, over and over throughout the day.”
Mr. Martin said the band employs Nymi’s proprietary HeartID™ technology. It analyzes unique waveforms from the ECG. Those waveforms are unaffected by changes in heart rate due to exercise, illness or other dynamic conditions, he explained. A typical band should last for two years.
The Nymi Band can replace every current identity authentication tool, Mr. Martin said, and can be seamlessly employed in situations where PINs, passwords, tokens and other biometric solutions are employed. Computer unlocking, online account access and transactions, building and vehicle access, mobile device unlocking and contactless payments are some areas where the technology can be easily employed, he suggested.
Unlike actions like thumbprints and keypads which require extra action by the user, the Nymi Band, because it is in a continuous operative state when worn, can be a more fluid option, Mr. Martin explained.
“The unique capability of the Nymi Band is that it stays in a persistent state of authentication as long as the user is wearing it and then delivering identity credentials in a way that is passive for the user.”
Mr. Martin and I exchanged emails following the Money 20/20 conference in Las Vegas, where biometrics was a popular discussion topic. Get 10,000-plus industry people in an enclosed area and it is easy to get excited over the potential of biometrics.
But are the rest of us ready for it, or have we been impacted by too much science fiction?
Mr. Martin said those concerns are much less of an issue thanks to Apple TouchID which is employed in the iPhone and iPad. The benefits of the technology are becoming clearer over time.
“Consumers see the benefits of not having to remember and enter a PIN or password,” Mr. Martin said. “However, there is a concern about security and privacy, so we put a lot of significance on best-in-class security design principles and transparency in order to foster trust and credibility.”
Because the Nymi Band is a wearable, there were several challenges, Mr. Martin conceded. The band had to be comfortable and, ideally, complement the user’s fashion sense. Nymi added a Vice President of Manufacturing with an extensive background in consumer product manufacturing. They also engaged outside industrial and mechanical design firms.
“Through an iterative design process, we feel we were able to strike the right balance between design, cost, and speed of execution for a first generation product,” Mr. Martin said.
Nymi is one of a growing number of companies sharing their technology with the larger community. In doing so, Nymi allows their technology to be potentially employed in areas beyond what their team originally envisioned, Mr. Martin said.
“We recognized early on that the Nymi Band’s usefulness is dependent on a broader ecosystem of interoperable applications and devices. Authentication on its own is not useful; it’s the experiences that it enables.”
“We want to encourage other developers and companies to run with the possibilities and amplify the potential that we offer. Keeping the ecosystem closed and controlled would ultimately be a disservice to the end user.”