With PhoneLock you can tap your PIN code into a system via a virtual wheel which emits sound or vibration signals. This means you can enter your personal identifier without even looking at the screen.

In the near future it may not be necessary to make visual contact with a screen when entering your PIN code into your smartphone or an ATM. Researchers at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology at Daejeon in South Korea and the Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute in Portugal have developed an authentication system which works on vibrations or sounds. The PhoneLock system presents the user with a form of circular grid divided into ten segments, with a central panel. Each of the ten segments corresponds to a number from 0 to 9. When the user moves his finger over a segment, a sound - a number enunciated in English - or a vibration (a repetition of one, two or three pulses of different lengths - 40, 80 or 160 milliseconds) is emitted.

A circular grid with programmable parameters

Each combination of vibrations is associated with a pre-defined number, one pulse of 40 milliseconds representing the figure 1, up to three pulses of 160 ms for the 9, the zero being represented by the absence of any vibration. Once the user has found the desired segment, all s/he has to do in order to enter the number is to press the icon at the centre of the wheel and then release it. Although the sequence of numbers on the circular grid always runs from 0 to 9, the software gives you the option of changing the starting point for each successive component of the PIN code to be entered. So for example the zero could be situated at due north on the circular grid for the first number, then shifted to the east for the second figure. The value of this application is that it enables a higher degree of security for identity authentication. The prying eyes of a passer-by looking at the ATM or smartphone screen will not enable the interloper to guess your code. Experienced users should eventually be able to train themselves to enter their PIN codes without taking the mobile device out of their pockets.

Easy-to-use technology

This system looks to be a real find at a time when mobile banking is becoming more and more popular and companies are looking to introduce shared use of mobile terminals. Tests carried out by the researchers indicate that the system should be fairly easy to use, and entering the PIN code should not take too long. A panel of twenty guinea pigs took an average twelve seconds using the sound version, and twenty for the vibration version. The average entry error rate also fell - by 4.7% and 6.6% respectively. While the sound version of PhoneLock can be used on current smartphones without any extra hardware, this is not true for the vibration version, which at the moment requires an extra panel at the back of the device. However the researchers think that it’s only a matter of time before the vibrations can be calibrated correctly using the oscillator on the mobile telephone.