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Biometrics in Cars: Unlocking Your Car With a Fingerprint Scanner to Become a Standard Feature

Car Biometric Identity
Pixabay.com / CC0 1.0.

Have you ever watched an action movie and wished you could drive a futuristic car with all the awesome technology the hero uses to outwit the bad guys? Thanks to emerging trends in biometrics, your dream may become a reality sooner than you think. At this very moment, manufacturers around the world are developing ways to make biometric technology a standard in cars.

A Quick Guide to Biometrics

Biometric technology involves the use of unique human features to set individuals apart. Most people recognize biometrics from movies or TV shows where characters gain access to secure rooms via retina scans or unlock secret devices using fingerprints. In the real world, biometric technology is already utilized to control access in computer science environments and increase security in surveillance operations.

A biometric automated toolset system scans an army recruit's retina.
Photo by Cpl. Spencer M. Murphy, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE / CC0 1.0.

Every person has multiple distinctive identifiers useable in biometric technology. Current markers include:

  • Fingerprints
  • Palm prints
  • Hand geometry
  • Retina and iris recognition
  • DNA
  • Facial recognition

Since these particular traits are difficult or impossible to duplicate, they have multiple benefits when used in biometric technology.

Biometrics is Used Across Various Fields Today: From Security to Fitness Trackers

Outside of the movie theater, you can see biometrics at work simply by browsing smartphone models sporting fingerprint scanners meant to prevent unauthorized access.

Security checkpoints at airports and other areas with restricted access are more reliable when biometrics enter the picture.

These days, you can even protect your valuables using biometric locks and secure your financial information with biometric markers.

Healthcare also benefits from biometrics – they use it to access patient records, hastening access to valuable information in situations where delays could mean the difference between life and death.

Biometrics in law enforcement make it easier to increase security on every level and identify, track and apprehend criminals. Even employers are getting in on the biometrics game by using employee characteristics to track time and attendance.

Probably the most popular application of biometrics in the current market is for fitness tracking. Today’s fitness wristbands and chest straps do much more than tell you your heart rate or estimate how many calories you burn. Some are designed for endurance training to show you how long you spend in a particular “zone;” others provide readouts relating to muscle strength used and reps performed in weight training, and some even tell you when your form starts to suffer.

Some auto manufacturers are aiming towards incorporating fitness trackers into the car's biometric tech.
Photo by Maurizio Pesce on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.

The most interesting use of biometrics we might be seeing really soon is in cars. Using a biometric car starter or a biometric car lock might become a standard sooner than you think. And that might just be the beginning of the story.

Automotive Biometrics: Coming Soon to a Car Near You

The research and development centers of many popular car manufacturers are buzzing with ideas of how to integrate biometrics into the driving experience. At the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show, Mitsubishi introduced the EMIRAI concept, a biometric car capable of controlling everything from vehicle access to dashboard settings. In the near future, biometric markers such as fingerprints, body scans and facial recognition may be used to “lock down” certain vehicle features when anyone other than the authorized driver climbs in.

Ford is working on a marriage between smart watches and vehicle systems to monitor drivers’ health and implement potentially life-saving assistance in the event of drowsiness or medical emergencies. The same metrics could benefit the racing industry by allowing teams to track the heart rates and other important health markers of their drivers and intervene should something go wrong.

Automotive Biometrics: Practical, Distracting or a Waste?

Given the association of biometrics with movies where car chases and explosions dominate the screen, it may seem like including such technology in cars is a waste of time and money. However, the rise of all things “smart” opens up a wealth of possibilities for tech-savvy car owners:

  • Personalization taken to a whole new level – After reading your biometrics, a car could automatically adjust everything from seats and mirrors to music and GPS according to custom specifications.
  • Improved Focus and Minimal Distraction – Since the car “knows” who you are, many features currently requiring manual adjustment could be automated, allowing you to keep your eyes on the road and your mind on driving.
  • Better Security – A system requiring biometrics to enter or start the car would stop potential thieves in their tracks.
  • Peace of Mind – By observing your heart rate, blood pressure and other vital signs, car systems could tell if you’re impaired in any way and prevent accidents by engaging automatic assistance and alerting the proper emergency services.

A Period of Adjustment: Why Consumers Might Think Twice Before Embracing Biometric Tech in Cars

Fingerprint scanning is standard in many fields.
Photo by U.S. Customs and Border Protection / CC0 1.0.

As with any new technology, not every aspect of automotive biometrics is going to be perfect from the start. One of the biggest potential concerns is that of driver safety. The same measures meant to keep the wrong person from operating a vehicle could make it impossible for a friend or family member to take over driving in an emergency situation. Some form of “emergency contact” system would need to be developed to allow specific individuals access in case the regular driver became incapacitated.

It’s also possible that the built-in override features designed for helping ailing drivers could kick in at inappropriate times, creating potentially dangerous situations. An accident is much more likely should an automatic system engage while the car is traveling along a crowded highway or on an unpredictable road. The same is true in situations where something is wrong with the driver and the system fails to recognize the signs.

Even with the popularity of device integration and “smart” technologies, these and other potential drawbacks could make consumers wary of embracing automotive biometrics. Manufacturers will have to identify and address possible problems as new systems develop to make features more appealing and accessible to the average driver.

Biometrics in Cars to Become the Next Big Thing

Biometrics is set to become the next big innovation in automotive technology. With potential benefits for security, safety, personalization and much more, this emerging trend has a lot to offer everyone.

What do you think of automotive biometrics? Would you want a car outfitted with this futuristic technology, or do you prefer more traditional automotive features?