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Gadgets & Home Improvement

Using your voice to lock your phone

Researchers say each voiceprint is unique, making it hard for imposters to copy.
The Straits Times - January 31, 2013
By: Oo Gin Lee
| More
Using your voice to lock your phone Dr Li Haizhou, a senior researcher with the Institute of Infocomm Research, said the voiceprint lock on the Lenovo A586 works by recognising the unique indentifiers in the owner's voice. -- PHOTO: A*STAR

All you have to do is speak to lock and unlock your phone.

High-tech smarts from a Singapore research institute has made what is believed to be the world's first smartphone which can be unlocked by the owner's voice.

Launched only for the China market last November, the Lenovo A586 has a unique feature in its security settings. Like most Android-based smartphones, users can lock the screen using a PIN number, password or a pre-configured pattern swipe, but it has one more option - voiceprint lock.

When the voiceprint function is selected, the user has to record a short phrase three times, in any language.

After that, all he needs is to repeat the same phrase to unlock the phone. The technology recognises only the owner's voice, so a stranger who overhears the password will not be able to access the phone by repeating the same phrase.

Dr Li Haizhou, a senior researcher with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's Institute of Infocomm Research (I2R), said: "Each person has a unique voiceprint, like the way we have fingerprints."

This unique voiceprint is formed from a variety of factors including the length of an individual's vocal chords as well as the amount of space in a person's mouth. When the software captures the voice signals, it extrapolates backwards to determine these unique identifiers in a person, added Dr Li.

"Unlike passwords, PIN numbers and patterns, which can be copied, voiceprint is unique to each individual," said Dr Li, who is the head of I2R's human language technology department.

Dr Li added that a small margin of error was deliberately built into the voiceprint unlock technology in the Lenovo A586, in case the owner forgot his exact password phrase.

The phone should still unlock if the owner makes a few minor errors but it will remain protected against imposters.

The voiceprint smarts was developed here at the Baidu-I2R Research Centre at Fusionopolis. The successful commercialisation of the voiceprint project marks a major milestone for the centre, which was set up last July. This centre is the China Internet search giant's first overseas joint research facility.

The Lenovo A586 makes use of Baidu Cloud, a special version of the open source Google Android mobile operating system that is developed by Baidu.

Baidu spokesman, Mr Chen Yu, said the voiceprint technology has become a very important function of Baidu Cloud, and that his company will "embed this technology as much as possible" in future products.

ginlee@sph.com.sg

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