B-Secur’s heartbeat biometric ID tech bags $4.5M

Northern Ireland based B-Secur has closed a £3.5m (~$4.5M) late stage seed investment for its biometric authentication technology that utilizes an individual’s unique heartbeat pattern, known as an electrocardiogram (ECG), to — in its words — “quickly and securely authenticate identity”.

The investment is coming from a syndicate of UK and Ireland-based investors, including Accelerated Digital Ventures and Kernel Capital. Fund manager Woodford Investment Management, and British Business Bank are also part of the investor group.

Pressure to stay ahead of hackers is driving interest in so-called next-gen biometrics which hold up the prospect of offering a more robust (if even more invasive) form of ID verification vs, say, a face or fingerprint scan, which — while widely used in consumer tech — can be more easily spoofed.

“As an internal biometric, ECG authentication can minimise hacking or spoofing risks for greater security and convenience,” claims B-Secur’s pitch.

A spokeswoman for the company said its core technology is a portfolio of heartbeat algorithms that it’s licensing into “a number of end-user applications”, focused on powering the next generation of ID authentication.

But its market positioning combines ID and access management with a focus on tracking wellness — given that its technology can also provide “health and wellbeing metrics”, as a result of being based on tracking individuals’ heartbeats.

That aspect of the tech might generate some feelings of discomfort among end users, given its data on their health potentially being shared with their employer (or other third parties) — although for businesses with employees routinely in dangerous situations there may be less concern and more enthusiasm among staff to be monitored for wellness on an ongoing basis.

The spokeswoman told us the product collects “vital information about the employee such as heart rate, location, and wellbeing metrics,” adding: “This will ensure the safety of these employees in dangerous and highly security conscious environments.”

One potential use-case B-Secur is exploring is applying the tech to cars — to allow users to “start their engine using their heartbeat and then providing safety features that would give the drivers warnings if they were suffering the early signs of tiredness or would prevent the engine from starting if they were under the influence of drink or drugs”, said the spokeswoman.

Again, getting end user buy-in for a technology that could be used to prevent someone from driving their own car might involve some challenges — even where safety advantages are clear.

The spokeswoman described B-Secur’s algorithms’ ability to discern “a number of wellbeing metrics” — such as whether a user is tired, stressed or even under the influence of drink or drugs — as a differentiating feature for its biometric tech.

“This differs from the majority of biometrics on the market today which just provide a challenge response — yes or no,” she said.

“We can capture ECG signal from a number of different conductive materials (metals, fabrics, inks, etc) and also from a number of different locations on the body (wrist, fingers, chest, etc.),” she added.

“As long as our algorithms pick up a strong signal they can work across a number of different use-cases and devices. This ultimately allows this type of technology to be deployed/licensed across a number of technology devices and companies as there is no need for a specific sensor or capture point.”

Others are also playing in this space — most notably Nymi. However B-Secur is pursuing a b2b licensing model vs Nymi building and selling its own authentication wearables.

Commenting on the investment in a statement, CEO Alan Foreman said: “We are thrilled to gain the backing of ADV, Kernel and others. This will help us to grow significantly in the next 12 months and continue to invest in world-class science and engineering in the UK and beyond, and we are proud to have the opportunity to build a truly global business solving a serious problem that each of us faces every day.”

B-Secur was originally spun out of a university cardiology project in 2002 but the business lay dormant until 2014 when the spokeswoman said it judged the biometrics market to be “more mature and ready for ECG biometrics”.

It plans to use the new funds to expand its current work in the UK, Ireland and US — across automotive, financial services, access control, smart cities and buildings.

“We are currently piloting our technology with a number of Identity and Access Management partners, which is allowing us to test our technology at scale in live environments,” said the spokeswoman. “We are also in the process of developing licensing agreements with technology partners which will allow us to deploy our algorithms into technology devices at scale.”