Foteini Agrafioti, an Innovator Changing World of Biometrics

When Foteini Agrafioti set out to see whether heartbeats where as unique as fingerprints, she was told not to.

Despite discouragement by academics that her research could be disruptive and had the potential to fail, Agrafioti pursued her research at University of Toronto for six years. It proved successful.

“Back at the univerity we asked students to visit our lab and we recorded their heartbeats,” says Agrafioti, who recently talked about her innovative journey at the Audience View Speaker Series. From that, a huge database was created where a specially designed algorithm would track the different characteristics of each person’s heartbeat.

“These algorithms were giving the same accuracy in identification as fingerprints,” says Agrafioti. “And that was really exciting.”

In spite of initial pushback from academics worldwide, Agrafioti’s groundbreaking research was finally accepted and began receiving corporate interest. From this, Nymi was born in 2011. The Toronto-based company was co-founded by Agrafioti, who also acted as Chief Technology Officer. Using Agrafioti’s biometric research on heartbeat authentication, Nymi produced a wearable device—a wristband—that could identify the wearer based on their heartbeat.

Now, Agrafioti is at Architech Labs, pursuing new and challenging research. Agrafioti, acting as Chief Innovation Officer, founded Architech Labs where cutting edge research is being done on human computer interaction.

“One of the technologies that we’re working on right now is this new trend in machine learning called deep learning,” says Agrafioti. “What we did with deep learinng in the lab,was we use it a lot for facial analytics, so how we can analyze the human face in front of a camera automatically.”

Agrafioti and her team at Architech labs will be demonstrating this technology at Nuit Blanche this year. Everyone who visits the booth will have their photo taken. After the night is over, all the pictures will be compiled and with deep learning facial analytics, one face will be produced as the face of Toronto. The Architech labs Nuit Blanche exhibit, called “Face of Toronto” will be at 130 Adelaide St. W. It’ll be open to the public between 7PM and 7AM on October 3.

Other research that Agrafioti is working on in Architech labs is emotion detection via only a video camera. “We’re using biosignals to determine how people are feeling,” says Agrafioti. “But we’re doing it in a way that you no longer have to wear a device to capture your heart rate; you don’t have to come in contact with any censor, so we’re only doing it through video.”

While Agrafioti’s research spans a wide range of topics, there’s one thing all of it has in common: it pushes boundaries.

“You have to follow your gut when it comes to that,” says Agrafioti. “My gut was telling me that there was a 50/50 chance that it can work out and is actually worth it, so I could give it a try.” For Agrafioti, the risk paid off.

Agrafioti believes that many academic spaces have the tendency to silence work that might rock the status quo, but believes that innovators have to look beyond that. Taking a safer and more secure avenue means that technology like the Nymi wristband would never have been created.

“Don’t accept things the way they are,” says Agrafioti. “Push the state of the art. Do something new.”