Your Next Smartphone Could Have Security Sensors Built Into Its Screen

The slab of glass on the front of your phone currently detects your finger prods and allows light to pour through—but soon, it could provide an extra layer of security, too.

A team of researchers from Polytechnique Montreal has devised a new technique which allows them to create in-glass sensors within slabs of Gorilla Glass, allowing it to react to its surroundings without the need for extra wiring or sensors. The technology is built upon an etched optical waveguide, which allows it to track changes in light. Those waveguides channel photons—those little particles of light—through themselves, much like an electronic circuit channels electrons. Depending on the incident light on the phone, then, the waveguide can be used to sense certain external parameters.

The researchers have put together two different sensors so far, both of which have been etched into Gorilla Glass. The first was a temperature sensor—known as a Mach-Zehnder interferometer (MZI)—which uses knowledge about subtle glass deformation from temperature changes to calculate the external temperature as light passes through. But perhaps more interesting is a custom waveguide etched into the glass. The idea here is that a unique waveguide is etched into the screen; when infrared light shone through it, it can ensure that the phone is the one it claims to be, not stolen or cloned.

Both these sensors are transparent so you can't seem them as you look at your screen. Indeed, that means that a screen could in theory be filled with them, even having them stacked one on top of another without obscuring the images on your phone's screen. Ultimately, many of the sensors that your phone needs could be installed in the screen—and they'd be powered by light, so would ease the load on your battery.

Despite Corning's involvement with this project, there's currently no plan to roll it onto Gorrilla Glass just yet. But Polytechnique Montreal wants it to find a place in real gadget—and reckons it could be production-ready within about a year. [Optics Info Base via PC World via Engadget]