Canadian Startup Award Nominee Bionym Develops Heartbeat-sensing Wristband Key

Bionym is a contender for a 2013 Canadian Startup Award in the Accelerator Graduate of the Year category. With their initial product offering Nymi, Bionym is developing a high-tech keychain for the future.

There’s a memorable scene in Minority Report where Tom Cruise attempts to walk through a shopping mall undetected. The billboards and ads all around him spring to life, calling him by name and offering him customized product offerings. In that film, the technology being demonstrated is facial/retinal recognition. But how exciting is that? Even i would recognize Tom Cruise walking through a shopping mall.

Bionym thinks they’ve got facial recognition beat with Nymi, a high-tech wristband that identifies you based on your ECG-measured biorhythms. Once you and your blood-pumper are synced to the Nymi, you can theoretically pull of all kinds of tricks, including unlocking your car doors, logging into your computer, and resuming your Netflix movie on your smart TV. 

The company’s claim is that a person’s biorhythms are uniquely identifiable, like fingerprints. “Pish and nonsense!” i said to myself. Bionym CEO Karl Martin explains:

“We’ve captured data from over 1,000 test subjects that shows that our ECG recognition technology provides greater accuracy than face recognition, and is competitive with fingerprint recognition.” The tech was developed after six years of research at the University of Toronto, culminating in a white paper and, of course, the Nymi.

Heartbeat recognition is only one pillar in a three-pronged approach to the Nymi’s identification strategy. The other two aspects are a unique identifier embedded in the device itself, and the handshake between the Nymi and the software it’s affecting. The Nymi promo video demonstrates all kinds of amazing uses for the wristband; in it, the sexier-than-thou actor opens the trunk of his car-you-can’t-afford with a simple flick of the wrist, made possible by the Nymi’s six-axis motion sensor (similar to what you’d find in a motion-sensing Playstation controller).

The Nymi’s motion-sensing strategy is one step less interesting than the solution cooked up at Thalmic Labs, where the Myo device detects finger gestures by analyzing muscle contractions in the forearm. (Thalmic Labs, incidentally, is in the running for Startup of the Year.)

Some of the Nymi’s purported uses, like buying a coffee via an in-store scanner, are unconfirmed. “We have a number of partnerships currently under development,” said Martin, however “we can’t announce any partnerships until they’ve been finalized.” What a tease.

Near the end of our email interview, i laid somewhat of a heavy question on the intrepid CEO of Bionym:

The 13th chapter of the Book of Revelation describes the Beast of the Earth forcing everyone to receive a mark on their right hands or foreheads in order for them to participate in commerce. The calculated number of this device is 666. Is the Nymi the mark of the beast, as foretold in Biblical prophecy?

Martin replied conservatively. “The Nymi is about putting people in control of their identity, maintaining complete privacy. Someone can never be tracked without explicit, opt-in permission (controlled right down to the hardware). … We believe that the Nymi will be seen as a personally empowering device.”

(So… we’ll take that as a “yes”?)

Harbinger of the Antichrist or not, be sure to vote for Bionym and all your favourites for the 2013 Canadian Startup Awards!