Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

How walking can power medical wearables

Steve Rogerson
June 6, 2017

Australian research agency CSIRO has developed a way to use the way a person walks, their gait, to power wearable healthcare devices. The technology can also be used as an authentication method, replacing passwords, pins or fingerprints.
Rather than looking at an individual’s unique movements as a form of authentication, researchers at CSIRO have developed a prototype wearable device to capture how an individual’s unique energy generation pattern can be used as a form of authentication.
Accelerometers can be used to capture an individual’s gait in terms of motion and velocity. However, this reduces the battery life of wearable devices and has prevented gait authentication from becoming more widely adopted.
The researchers have overcome this by combining gait recognition with a technique called kinetic energy harvesting (KEH), which translates a person’s motion into electrical energy and improves battery life.
“By applying both techniques we have developed a way to achieve two goals at once – powering devices and the ability to verify a person’s identity using a wearable device by capturing the energy generated from the way they walk,” said researcher Sara Khalifa.
To test how secure KEH gait authentication is, the researchers conducted a trial on 20 users. Data were collected from each user using two different settings from various environments. Users walked in several environments including indoor on carpet and outdoor on grass and asphalt terrains to capture the natural gait changes over time and surfaces.
The trial showed that KEH-gait can achieve an authentication accuracy of 95 per cent and reduce energy consumption by 78 per cent, compared with conventional accelerometer-based authentication techniques.
The system was also tested against attackers who attempted to imitate an individual’s motions. The analysis found only 13 out of 100 imposter trials were wrongfully accepted by the system as genuine trials.
Group leader of the networks research group Dali Kafaar said there were benefits to the KEH-gait approach compared with passwords, pins, signatures and finger prints.
“Firstly, it is convenient because as we walk around each day our gait can be sampled continuously and verified without us having to manually adjust anything,” Kafaar said. “Secondly, it’s more secure than passwords because the way we walk is difficult to mimic. Since the KEH-gait keeps authenticating the user continuously, it collects a significant amount of information about our movements, making it difficult to imitate or hack unlike guessing passwords or pin codes.”
Wearable technology presents an opportunity to explore new authentication methods based on our movements.
“With many of us already tracking our health using wearable devices there is a great opportunity to explore new authentication methods based on our movements,” Kafaar said.
The market for wearable devices is booming. According to a recent report, about 55 per cent of Australians own one and the global market for personable wearable devices is expected to reach US$150bn by 2026.
Alongside KEH-gait sampling, CSIRO’s privacy and authentication research team is exploring other more secure and implicit continuous authentication techniques such as unique breathing patterns and distinctive behavioural biometrics from the way users innately interact with their devices.