A ground-breaking system, developed in Nottingham, to boost smartphone security has been selected by the UK Ministry of Defence.
The MoD “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) development contract could see a possible saving of money from a reduction in issue of phones to staff.
Voicekey Limited – a spin out from Nottingham Trent University (NTU) has created an artificially intelligent software solution, based on a mathematical model of the human brain, which uses the unique features of an individual’s voice to verify an individual’s identity. This means that the unique vocal characteristics of a user can be identified through a smartphone or telephone handset, making it possible to quickly verify security clearance and allow access to sensitive military computer systems.
Voicekey, based at Nottingham Trent University’s Centre for Innovation and Technology Exploitation on the Clifton campus, has recently received significant funding from the Nottingham Technology Grant Fund (N’Tech), to help market the product. Geared towards the growing life science, digital content and clean technology sectors, the fund is run by Nottingham City Council and was launched on April 1 last year. The programme is focussed on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) within the greater Nottingham area, to support business growth and expansion.
Using this grant, Voicekey aims to significantly grow its turnover in 2014/15 and is looking to create several fulltime equivalent jobs in the next few months.
Founder and former-director of the Centre for Innovation and Technology Exploitation, Dr Tony Allen has been an academic at Nottingham Trent University for 15 years and is an expert in artificial intelligence using neural network systems. Dr Allen invented the technology behind Voicekey, which the university patented in 2009. He continues to work at the university whilst managing the growth of the Voicekey business.
The Voicekey BYOD solution works by adding a third level of security to the two levels which already exist on smartphones. Dr Allen explained that the two current security levels are based around “something you have” and “something you know” – basically, your unique phone ID and your unique password. The new development is based on “something you are” – your unique voice characteristics.
Dr Allen, added: “The Voicekey system uses neural connections similar to those used in the human brain.
However, where the human brain has billions of neurons, Voicekey uses only hundreds. It’s a unique system and nothing like it has been developed anywhere else in the world. We’re picking up a lot of interest from a number of business and industry sectors internationally.”
Professor Yvonne Barnett, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research at Nottingham Trent University, said: “Dr Allen’s leading-edge research in computing science is an excellent example of how many of our university academic researchers work with a range of funding bodies, business and industry sectors – nationally and internationally – to secure the effective translation of their research findings into real-world applications.”
In addition to the MoD project, Voicekey has recently won a substantial Technical Strategy Board contract to support its mobile commerce developments. The Voicekey software would benefit shops, supermarkets and call centres. In shops the company uses a QR code – a two dimensional bar code – generated by Voicekey, so shoppers can scan securely scan and buy goods using only their smartphone.
Call centres would also benefit by using the Voicekey voice recognition system, rather than the existing manual based user authentication systems.
The company is also in talks on a multilingual voice biometric for an online gaming project in Japan.
N’Tech is part of the £50 million Nottingham prospectus, the city’s package to attract investment to boost Nottingham’s economy. N’Tech’s grants are funded solely through the Government’s Regional Growth Fund (RGF).
Nottingham City Council has secured £10 million from the Government’s Regional Growth Fund for grants to help fast track development plans of businesses based in the city. The funding can provide grants of £20,000, up to £1 million per successful company to support business growth and expansion.
Councillor Nick McDonald, Portfolio Holder for Jobs and Growth, commented: “One of the principal reasons we set up the N’Tech Fund is to encourage local businesses to develop ground-breaking new technologies. This is exactly what Voicekey are doing. The good news is that there is still funding available and we urge businesses who are thinking ahead to their developments in 2014 to make an application. The process is streamlined and applications are reviewed on a monthly basis – this could be exactly the start to the New Year that your business needs.”
Jeremy Hague, head of business development at Nottingham Trent University, said: “The University is pleased to support Regional Growth Fund through N’Tech in Nottingham and we’re especially pleased that one of the university’s spinouts was able to benefit from the funding and grow its business in the city.”
The N’Tech fund has so far had 25 successful applications across the digital content, life sciences and clean technology sectors and awarded grants to the value of £2.2million.