The University of Southampton

ECS research advances identification of people by their ears

Published: 10 October 2010

Scientists working on biometrics at the University of Southampton have developed a new technique to identify people by their ears.

In a paper entitled A Novel Ray Analogy for Enrolment of Ear Biometrics just presented at the IEEE Fourth International Conference on Biometrics: Theory, Applications and Systems, scientists from the University’s School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) described how a technique called the image ray transform can highlight tubular structures such as ears, making it possible to identify them.

The research which was carried out by Professor Mark Nixon, Dr John Carter and Alastair Cummings at ECS, describes how the transform is capable of highlighting tubular structures such as the helix of the ear and spectacle frames and, by exploiting the elliptical shape of the helix, can be used as the basis of a method for enrolment (the discovery, localisation and normalisation of the image) for ear biometrics.

Professor Nixon, one of the UK's earliest researchers in this field, first proved that ears were a viable biometric back in 1999. He said then that ears have certain advantages over the more established biometrics as they have a rich and stable structure that is preserved from birth to old age and instead of ageing they just get bigger. The ear also does not suffer from changes in facial expression and is fixed in the middle of the side of the head against a predictable background, unlike face recognition which usually requires the face to be captured against a controlled background.

However, the fact that ears can be concealed by hair led Professor Nixon and his team to research their use as a biometric further and to come up with new algorithms to make it possible to identify and isolate the ear from the head.

The new technique presented by the scientists achieves 99.6% success at enrolment across 252 images of the XM2VTS database, displaying a resistance to confusion with hair and spectacles. These results show great potential for enhancing the detection of structural features.

"Feature recognition is one of the biggest challenges of computer vision," said Professor Nixon. "The ray transform technique may also be appropriate for use in gait biometrics, as legs act as tubular features that the transform is adept at extracting. The transform could also be extended to work on 3D images, both spatial and spatio-temporal, for 3D biometrics or object tracking. As a general pre-processing technique for feature extraction in computer images the technology is now pervading manufacturing, surveillance and medical applications."

The research, published in a paper entitled A Novel Ray Analogy for Enrolment of Ear Biometrics, was presented at the recent IEEE Fourth International Conference on Biometrics: Theory, Applications and Systems, held in Washington DC.

A copy of at: A Novel Ray Analogy for Enrolment of Ear Biometrics can be accessed at:


This research is being undertaken in the Information: Signals, Information, Systems (ISIS) group of the School of Electronics and Computer Science. If you are interested in undertaking research in this area, you can find out more on our Research Admissions pages.

For further information on this news story, contact Joyce Lewis; tel.+44(0)23 8059 5453.

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