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Nymi Wristband Unlocks Devices with Heartbeat

Like a fingerprint, a person's cardiac rhythm is totally unique. And like a fingerprint, a heartbeat could be used to verify a person's identity. That's the approach Bionym has taken with Nymi, a wearable authentication device that can be used to unlock registered devices instead of manually entering a password or PIN.

Bionym's Nymi wristband features an integrated electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor that picks up on the wearer's heartbeat. The device actually powers on when the user clasps it around his/her wrist. Once activated, the user then places a finger on the topside sensor while the device is in contact with the wrist, thus completing an electrical circuit. The device will then vibrate and activate LEDs to alert the wearer that he/she has been recognized. The user will remain identified with all registered devices until the Nymi device is removed.

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But that's not all. The device is also packed with an accelerometer and gyroscope, allowing for simple gesture recognition like opening a door or popping open the trunk. The embedded Bluetooth component not only connects to other devices like tablets and smartphones, but it's also used for proximity detection. Thus the wearable tech knows exactly how far away it is from the device it's talking to, and could be used to turn on the lights when walking into a room, to deactivate an alarm system, and more.

"Your Nymi uses Bluetooth Low energy, allowing for the perfect way to transmit your data while maximizing your battery life. By connecting your Nymi to your devices, you can customize program notifications for email, text, social updates and more," the company says. The device is compatible with iOS, Android, Windows and Mac OS X.

In a video demonstration, the Nymi device is used to unlock a car door by simply swiping left in mid-air. When sitting down in front of a Mac, the platform comes to life, authenticates the wearer, and unlocks the screen. The wearer also purchases coffee by merely holding the device close to a register, indicating that it likely has NFC capabilities. When he picks up an iPad, the Nymi device unlocks the tablet by automatically entering the PIN code. The users doesn't even need a key card to unlock the door to his hotel room.

Popular Science got a chance to check out the current prototype, and reports that it looks nothing like the device portrayed in the demo video. That's because it's still in development, and Bionym didn't allow the magazine to take pictures of the current version. However the non-working model of the final design is what's shown in the video, sporting a mere wristband with a button on the top for activation. The device will eventually ship in black, grey and orange.

Bionym CEO Karl Martin told Popular Science that his company worked with the University of Toronto to test Nymi's cardiac rhythm identification accuracy in more than 1,000 people. The tests showed that the device is comparable to fingerprint recognition, and is more accurate than facial recognition. Additional tests regarding accuracy will take place this fall.

The Nymi is now available for pre-purchase for $79 USD as an exclusive introductory price, with worldwide shipping at a flat rate of $10 USD. After the first run of 25,000 units is sold out, the price will switch to $99. The first wave of units is expected to ship in early 2014, and only four wristbands can be ordered per customer, the company said.