Apple has been granted a patent, first filed in 2015, that could lead to huge enhancements in the iPhone’s biometric powers by using “pulsed radiation” to peer into users’ veins. A relatively recent wave of similar patents could point to a new sub-dermal standard in future generations of smartphones and wearables.
Spotted by Apple Insider, the iPhone maker was granted a patent called “Vein imaging using detection of pulsed radiation,” which theorizes using infrared light to capture images of the veins beneath someone’s skin.
The vein-authentication technology could be used alongside Face ID, which unlocks iPhones using face-recognition technology. “A complex pattern of blood vessels runs close beneath the skin of the face, and detection of this pattern under infrared illumination could be used, for example, to enhance the reliability of facial authentication,” the patent reads.
As Apple Insider hypothesizes, vein-based biometrics could help solve the iPhone X’s “twin problem.” Face ID boasts an impressively low false-positive rate, but can be fooled by identical twins. Vein structure is unique, even among twins, and would theoretically solve the problem.
This isn’t the first time tech companies have pursued vein-based biometrics. In 2013, Google filed a patent for a Google Glass-like devices capable of “authenticating the user based, on each of the iris images, the retina images, and the eye vein images both individually and in combination.” Samsung similarly published a patent in 2016 for vein-recognizing smartwatches, though Apple may be unique in exploring vein recognition in combination with face recognition in smartphones.
Of course, it’s only a patent, which is a long way from confirmation that Apple is even considering the tech in the near future. Apple has previously explored smartphone features that would allow users’ heartbeats to unlock their phones as early as 2010.