Nottingham grandfather invents ‘biowatch’ strap which could be used to pay for shopping and unlocking doors
It could be used to keep all your cards and tickets, as well as ensuring it’s only you who can unlock certain doors
Watches could soon be used for making payments, unlocking cars and holding medical records thanks to technology dreamed up by a Nottingham inventor.
Joe Rice, of Clifton Village, has created the “biowatch” concept, a wristband clasp that uses its wearer’s vein pattern as a digital signature to transform security and how we carry passwords, keys and cards.
The 69-year-old, who set up a company called Biowatch Limited alongside a Swiss scientist, has already attracted £2m in start-up funding from various backers.
His team will now seek to attract more interest, including from defence contractors, at a Las Vegas technology exhibition next week, with production expected to begin shortly.
Mr Rice, a married grandfather-of-two, said: “It will be one of the major biometric solutions in the world that has distinct advantages over other security technologies.
“For example, if you’re managing a nuclear power plant and use facial recognition to control procedures, what do you do when you find your employee’s face has been captured by a digital camera and published on the dark web?
“They might not be able to trick the system today but you’ll have hackers working around the clock trying to crack it, so it’s open to abuse.
“But this is internal to you and covered by a watchstrap so it’s the most secure technology we know about at the moment.
“It also puts you in charge. Most of the time, someone else has your facial pattern or fingerprint template on their computer, whereas we use the tools to manage our own digital identity.”
Mr Rice came up with the idea for vein recognition security technology after his bank cards were stolen from Kodak’s former Annesley plant – where he worked as an automation controls engineer – and fraudulently used in the 1980s.
He recorded his first wrist vein pattern to open a prototype smart door handle built in his garage at the time, but his idea was not backed until Switzerland-based Matthias Vanoni got in touch with Mr Rice after reading about his work in biometrics, the technical term for body measurements and calculations that also includes fingerprint and retina scanners.
The duo are now business partners and have a team of 15 based in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The biowatch wrist strap, which can either be built into a watch or attached to an existing timepiece, incorporates electronics and infrared sensors that can read an individual’s vein pattern and links to a mobile phone app.
Replicating traditional card access systems, it responds to challenges from computers and vehicles to confirm the identity of the owner and unlock them, while it can also be used to make payments and sign contracts.
Mr Rice, who also ran a knowledge management solutions company for 13 years before selling it, said: “It would make it easier for doing digital commerce with a company in China, for example, as it shows the transaction was made by you, while it could also transform the way we pay for things.
“It can contain up to 100-plus cryptographic keys – even tickets could be transferred into your biowatch module.”
Biowatch Ltd has put together a pitch for £2m funding from Innovate UK, the Government’s arm’s length agency for promoting innovation, and will feature at CES, billed as the world’s gathering place for businesses involved in consumer technologies, held in Las Vegas from Tuesday to Friday next week (January 9 to 12).
If the idea takes off, Mr Rice believes Biowatch could become a “unicorn” start-up, which describes those valued at more than $1 billion, within three or four years.
Bob Stevens, a Nottingham Trent University professor in smart materials and devices, said: “There’s a whole move towards blockchain transactions and digitalising supply chains.
“From both an academic and commercialisation point of view, it’s very exciting because it has the potential to make information and cash payments more secure.”