Imagining the Biometric Future of Cars

Facial recognition will win out in automotive applications. The benefits of the technology combined with its passive nature simply outweigh use of fingerprints.

Kate Migon, Head of Automotive & Mobility Services Americas

June 13, 2019

3 Min Read
Biometric access through fingerprints or facial recognition increases safety and provides personalization options.Continental AG

Americans already are comfortable with the use of biometrics to unlock our phones and replace passwords. The next frontier for biometrics is the car, and you want your car to know who you are for both convenience and safety.

Imagine this: You unlock your vehicle passively with your smartphone over Bluetooth. Then you get in and the car verifies who you are and personalizes the settings to your preferences, including temperature, radio and seat adjustment. There are other technologies to add for your safety such as heart rate monitors and seatbelt sensors that alert emergency personnel if you suffer a heart attack.

This is a long way from simple crash notification. The possibilities are endless, and many will start showing up sooner than you might expect.

The demand for increased convenience and safety is here. But there are many different options when incorporating biometric sensors into a vehicle, and each has pros and cons.

Consumers already are used to fingerprint scanners on their phones, so it might be an easy transition to other use cases. Fingerprint sensors also can be added after production, making them useful for rental-car companies and car-sharing platforms.

On the negative side, scanning a fingerprint requires specialized hardware and active participation by the driver, which might be difficult while focusing on the road. Plus, removing gloves to unlock a vehicle in freezing winter weather is undesirable, and a sensor covered in ice or rain might not be able to register the fingerprint. In the case of car rentals, there also is the question of whether germophobes will be willing to put their fingers on scanners that hundreds of other people have touched.

Meanwhile, facial recognition – another biometric option – has a lot going for it. Because facial recognition is a more passive authentication, it requires less deliberate action from the driver. As soon as the driver gets behind the wheel, the car can recognize their face, adjust the seat and turn on a favorite radio station at the preferred volume.

The safety benefits are pretty amazing, too.

In 2018, Genesis, Hyundai’s luxury brand, announced it had built a concept car that uses facial recognition technology to identify drivers, personalize in-car settings and even improve safety by monitoring driver fatigue. It’s a great feature that your car knows that you are getting drowsy and can direct you to the nearest rest area or even sense changes in mood that could lead to dangerous road incidents.

One of the more practical uses for facial recognition in car-sharing is for protection against repeat auto theft or damage. Companies can create watch lists of known thieves and either block them from driving or send an alert to home base. It also can prevent unauthorized drivers. Car thieves or a teen driver might use a friend or parent’s ID to get access to the vehicle, but the sensor would recognize their face and notify the car sharing or rental agency, or the authorities.

Unlike fingerprint sensors, facial recognition can take advantage of cameras that may already be in the vehicle to detect drowsiness. This creates a more positive user experience while decreasing hardware cost for the manufacturer.

Some consumers remain skeptical of facial recognition and worry about privacy, but those concerns are waning. In a 2018 report, IBM found 67% of adults surveyed in the U.S., Asia and Europe were comfortable using biometric authentication today, and 87% said they will be comfortable with these technologies in the future.

It’s clear we are moving in the right direction. I expect facial recognition to win out in automotive applications. The benefits of the technology combined with its passive nature simply outweigh use of fingerprints. But things will start small. Vehicles equipped with this technology will hit the market in the next few years and likely will contain applications designed primarily for security and personalized driving experiences.

Coordinating a seamless way to pay for tolls and drive-through meals and using your face to verify your identity for the charge will take a little longer to become mainstream, but they are coming.

Kate Migon - Gemalto.jpg

Kate Migon - Gemalto

Kate Migon is Head of Automotive & Mobility Services Americas at Gemalto

About the Author(s)

Kate Migon

Head of Automotive & Mobility Services Americas, Gemalto

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