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Smell ya later: Scientists want to track you by your scent

Researchers in Madrid are finding that body odor can help identify people in a crowd more accurately than facial recognition.

Universidad Politecnica de Madrid

Some people like having a signature perfume or cologne. Having someone recognize your distinctive scent could be flattering, or even romantic. But would you want to have your body odor be your ID signature as you walk through airport security?

That's exactly the kind of possibility that the Group of Biometrics, Biosignals, and Security of the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid is researching. Based on analysis of a group of 13 people and using sensors developed by the Ili Sistemas company, the scientists found that there were "recognizable patterns" in a person's body odor that could be used to identify each one with an accuracy rate of at least 85 percent.

As pointed out in a statement on the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid Web site, bloodhound dogs trained to work with police have been sniffing out suspects and victims for years. A dog's ability to identify scents goes far beyond what artificial sensors are currently capable of, but the GB2S researchers believe they're on the track of "a novel technique with an enormous potential."

According to the GB2S researchers' statement, other biometric techniques for identity verification have various drawbacks: facial recognition has a higher error rate, and using fingerprints or iris scanning requires more cooperation from the person being identified, and people may be reluctant to cooperate because of the association of fingerprinting with criminal records.

The researchers say that in the future, with the continued development of sensors that can distinguish human scents, odor biometrics could provide a noninvasive, reliable means of identification. And the potential goes beyond just security in airports.

"Although this research was conducted within the framework of Emocion Proyect, which is focused on citizen safety, body odor analysis can be used in many other fields," said the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid statement. "GB2S group along with the Hospital Infanta Sofoa and the Iloa Sistemas SL and SEADM SL are in fact collaborating these days on particular official projects that search for blood and breath characteristics that can detect early signs of colon cancer and leukemia."

Being "sniffed" by your doctor may sound like something from the Middle Ages, but it could be a life-saving diagnostic tool of the future.