Wave of wearable gadgets expected at CES event

Imagine if your phone, computer, car and home could recognize you and unlock when you're nearby. How would they know it was you and not someone else? They would recognize your heartbeat. That's the premise behind the Nymi, an upcoming security device from Toronto-based Bionym Inc. The Nymi is a wristband that reads a wearer's electrocardiogram, or EKG, a measurement of the heart's electrical activity. The wristband then transmits an ID based on the EKG to the wearer's devices. MORE: Hack-Proof Pacemakers: Code Based on Heartbeat Could Thwart Disruption IF you've been lucky enough to never see an EKG reading in real life, you've probably seen one in a movie or TV show, usually as a heartbeat wave on a hospital monitor while a character lies injured or dying. EKGs are based on a number of factors, including temporary measurements such as heart rate and stress, but they also include permanent factors, such as a heart's size, position in the chest and electrical signals. All of these characteristics contribute to the EKG wave's unique shape. The first time you put on the Nymi wristband, it performs an enrollment process. The Nymi takes a reading of its wearer's EKG, and then puts the results through an algorithm designed to strip away temporary data and quantify the unique, persistent data. The Nymi then turns the persistent data into a theoretically unique string of numbers, called a HeartID, which the wristband transmits via a Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy radio signal. Each time a user puts the Nymi back on, the wristband performs a check to match the EKG with what it has on file. After that, the Nymi merely monitors whether it is still in contact with the original wearer — it doesn't provide any data about the wearer's heart or other medical functions.  If the Nymi is removed, it will cease its Bluetooth transmissions and won't resume until it verifies that the correct user is wearing it. MORE: 7 Ways to Lock Down Your Online Privacy Devices running Nymi-associated apps can read the device's signal and react appropriately. For example, a smartphone with a Nymi app could unlock its screen when in range of the wristband's Bluetooth signal. Cars, homes and other electronic devices with the app could also be configured to unlock when in range of the Nymi device. The Nymi is scheduled to hit shelves in June 2014. By early December 2013, more than 6,000 people had applied for Nymi's software development kit (SDK). Karl Martin, CEO of Bionym Inc., imagines further uses for the Nymi. A "smart" home could adjust heat and lights as a Nymi-wearing person moves from room to room, and even configure presets for individuals. Retail stores could create custom shopping experiences for Nymi-wearing consumers.    Security based on a biometric — a measurement of a unique aspect of a person's body — isn't new, but it has been used more frequently in recent years. For example, the iPhone 5s features a fingerprint reader that lets users unlock phones without needing to enter a password. Similarly, many Android phones have a Face Unlock feature. (Neither feature is foolproof, and both require passwords as backups.) One drawback of using biometric measurements for security purposes is that these biological traits can't be changed — if a password is compromised, you can create a new one, but you can't change your fingerprints if someone gets access to them. MORE: iPhone Fingerprint Reader Already Hacked Trustworthy security is critical to a device like the Nymi, and not just because it unlocks doors and opens password-protected devices. A person's EKG is as distinctive as a fingerprint, and more medically sensitive. The Nymi wristband uses hardware encryption (far more secure and energy-efficient than software encryption) to store its owner's HeartID. When the wristband broadcasts its Bluetooth signal, it encrypts that message using cutting-edge elliptic-curve public-key cryptography. These layers of protection serve to keep the HeartID and any other personal data secure. Even if someone were able to capture the Nymi's Bluetooth signal, he or she would not be able to decrypt it and get to the information stored within. The Nymi wristband also includes a unique digital "signature" in its Bluetooth signals. Any application that unlocks using a HeartID will also need to verify the signature. "[HeartID] transmissions have to go through the sensor [on the Nymi wristband]," Martin said. "There is no way to brute-force it." A "brute-force attack" cracks a password by methodically trying every possible combination of characters. No security is perfect, of course. For example, if someone were to steal a Nymi wearer's phone, the thief could unlock the phone by bringing it close to the person's body. "There's always a situation where you might be forced to do something," Martin said. "It's the age-old problem that the best way to crack a password is with a baseball bat. We don't necessarily solve that [with the Nymi]." When the Nymi is launched, Bionym won't be able to see its users' HeartIDs, further protecting their security, Martin said. The company will have only customer names and payment information on file, as well as the product ID of each Nymi wristband. "We're looking, in the future, to have a cloud service to enable new applications," Martin said, "but none of [customers'] data would be shuttled off into the cloud without [them] knowing. That's a basic principle of this company." Email jscharr@techmedianetwork.com or follow her @JillScharr and Google+ .  Follow us @TomsGuide , on Facebook and on Google+ . How Secure is the New iPhone's Fingerprint Security? PC-Based Home Security: Do It Yourself 13 Security and Privacy Tips for the Truly Paranoid Copyright 2013 Toms Guides , a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Will 2014 be remembered as the year wearable computing took off?

Upstart entrepreneurs and major manufacturers such as Samsung, Qualcomm and Sony certainly hope so.

Gadgets that you snap, buckle or fasten to your body are already marketed to fitness freaks obsessed with tracking every possible metric their bodies produce. There are countless smartwatches for tech nerds who'd rather glance at their wrists to check messages than reach for their smartphones. And thousands of people are already seeing the world differently with the help of the Internet-connected eyewear, Google Glass.

Even with the possibilities these devices offer today, gadget lovers can expect technology companies to stretch the wearable concept further this week in Las Vegas at the International CES event, the industry's annual trade show.

Several companies are expected to unveil wearable devices that are easier to use, extend battery life, and tap into the power of gestures, social networks and cloud computing.

The wearables wave is still in its early phases. Many of the technologies on display will offer a glimpse of the future —not necessarily products that are ready for the mainstream consumer.

These new gadgets are "like the first generation of the iPod," says Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association, the group that has hosted the trade show since 1967. "It was bulky and it wasn't that pretty. Look what happened. It got slimmer. It got better."

Industry analysts' estimates for the growth of wearables are rosy. Research firm IHS says the global wearables market — which also includes health products like hearing aids and heart-rate monitors — could top $30 billion in 2018, up from nearly $10 billion at the end of 2013.

While some of the growth will come from an aging population that requires more health-related monitoring at home, devices like the Fitbit Force activity band — which tracks a wearer's steps, calories burned, sleeping patterns and progress toward fitness goals — are also expected to gain popularity as deskbound workers look for new ways to watch their waistlines.

At this week's show, companies are likely to introduce improvements in wearable screens and battery life, says Shane Walker, an IHS analyst. The two are linked because the more a device tries to do, the more battery power it consumes. This creates demand for innovative low-power screens, but also for ways to interact with devices that don't rely on the screen, such as using hand gestures and voice.

"With wearable technology, it's all about battery consumption," Walker says.

What's driving the boom in wearable device innovation is the recent widespread availability of inexpensive sensors known as microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). These are tiny components like accelerometers and gyroscopes that, for instance, make it possible for smartphones to respond to shaking and for tablets to double as steering wheels in video games.

There are also sensors that respond to pressure, temperature and even blood sugar. Toronto-based Bionym Inc. will show off its Nymi wristband at CES. The gadget verifies a user's identity by determining his or her unique heartbeat. The technology could one day supplant the need for passwords, car keys and wallets.

Waterloo, Ontaro-based Thalmic Labs Inc. plans to show off how its MYO armband can be used as a remote control device to operate a quadricopter drone. The band responds to electricity generated in forearm muscles as well as arm motions and finger gestures.

Co-founder Stephen Lake says the MYO is more akin to a mouse or keyboard that controls activities than the latest line of smart wristbands that simply track them.

"We've seen this shift away from traditional computers to mobile devices," Lake says. "Our belief is that trend will continue and we'll merge closer with technology and computers. New computer-human interfaces are what can drive these changes."

Wearables may not gain broad acceptance until sensors advance to a point where they can track more sophisticated bodily functions than heart rate, says Henry Samueli, co-founder of Broadcom Corp., the company that makes wireless connectivity chips for everything from iPhones to refrigerators. Monitors that measure blood sugar, for instance, still require test strips and pin-pricks.

"If you can monitor your blood chemistry with a wearable, now there we're talking about something pretty compelling," Samueli says. "Then I think the market will take off in a big way."

Companies are also expected to tweak the business models for wearable gadgetry as the devices become more mainstream. Fitness-focused wearables could one day help lower your health-care premiums if your insurer can verify your exercise regime. Always-on wristbands that know who you're with —and their preferences— could become vehicles for location-based restaurant advertising.

"I think you're going to see a lot of maturity in 2014 in the way companies think about their business," says J.P. Gownder, an analyst with Forrester Research.

Right now, the market is a swirling cauldron of ideas and products. Eventually, a winner may emerge.

Josh Flood, an analyst with ABI Research, says "the killer app" for a wearable product with the right mix of form, function and price "hasn't been identified yet."

Forrester's Gownder concurs. "It's a bit of a hype bubble," he says. "But so was the Internet in 1999."