Pee U! Your Smell Could Someday Be Used for Personal ID

identification systems

If your business requires a security clearance or other personal identification system such as a photo ID, your employees’ distinctive body odors might someday be their IDs.

Researchers in Spain say they’re working on a system that helps identify people by their scent. This would be the latest in a long history of using various individual characteristics – fingerprints, retina scans and the like – to identify people.

The team at Universidad Politecnica de Madrid say their smell test is accurate 85 percent of the time right now. They are being aided by the Spanish technology firm IIia Sistemas SL.  Discovery News reports:

“While iris and fingerprint scans may have a higher accuracy rate, the researchers contend these techniques are commonly associated with criminal records, perhaps making people reluctant to participate with the process. On the other hand, facial recognition has a high error rate. Therefore, the development of scent sensors that could identify a person as they walk through a system stall could provide less invasive solutions with a relatively high accuracy rate.”

The accuracy rate may not be 100 percent. However, if you’re looking to increase workplace security without turning your office into a quasi-police state, an odor test might be one answer. It would likely be less intrusive than fingerprinting or eye scanning all your employees.

From the standpoint of traveling for business, an odor test might also be easier and less intrusive. Researchers indicate one of the main places the technology could be employed is at airports where it could be used in place of the more conventional photo ID.

Writer Nic Halverson explains:

“TSA agents may have reputations for being gruff grouches who love nothing more than to nose through your bags, but their rotten tempers might be because of all the rank B.O. they’re forced to smell, day in, day out.”

Now, if only we could use an odor ID to access our Facebok, Twitter and other sites. It would be great to leave all those hard to remember pass codes behind. Maybe using body odor as an access to your important computer accounts would make hacking into them a bit more difficult as well.

Odor Photo via Shutterstock


Joshua Sophy Joshua Sophy is the Editor for Small Business Trends and the Head of Content Partnerships. A journalist with 20 years of experience in traditional and online media, he is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. He founded his own local newspaper, the Pottsville Free Press, covering his hometown.

11 Reactions
  1. I see this being a good secondary form of identification when combined with a retinal scan, or even a standard card swipe. Seems like a fairly hard technology to fool also

  2. That’s quite interesting. I must agree that while this may not necessarily be enticing, it is interesting in the sense that it cannot be replaced but I wonder how they will differentiate the smell.

  3. Interesting article Josh – but there are several key points to make that are not accurate in your assessment:

    1. You mention “retina scanning” at the outset of the article and although this is considered a viable biometric technology, it is not used in mainstream biometrics to identify individuals due to it’s invasive nature and cost. What would have been better to say is “iris recognition” which is much more widespread and a more practical, accurate biometric identification modality.

    2. While identifying someone by their scent is a great story and unique, people should understand that the research and development of biometric identification modalities is a long, arduous process that takes years to hone and customize before it can become an everyday reality in our lives. In other words, the use of our scent to identify individuals is a long way from becoming reality, perhaps years down the road. It’s very unrealistic to believe that this technology will be available anytime soon.

    3. You indicated that iris recognition is an “intrusive” biometric technology. That could not be farther from the truth and you should consider revising the article to mention that. Iris recognition is actually considered one of the least instrusive biometric technologies on the market due to the fact that modern iris recognition uses high powered digital cameras to capture a photo of an individual. it’s a photo, no lasers or light shining in a person’s eyes. Many studies have indicated that individuals are much more accepting of iris biometrics than other modalities like fingerprints which could be linked to criminal behavior. Please, make sure you understand a topic like biometrics before making what I considered to be an uneducated assumption.

    4. Again, your assertion that this technology can be used at airports – even though this seems to be a quote or reference from “industry experts” – is not accurate. The assertion that this technology can be used at airports came directly from a consortium from the biometrics industry who of course, have a vested interest in seeing this technology succeed and could be interpreted as bias to the modality.

    It’s important when writing articles about the biometrics industry that you get the facts straight. It is an industry that is widely misunderstood and there is a plethora of misinformation written about biometrics, how they work, public perception, and it’s practical use for identification in many different capacities. Let’s make sure in the future that we portray this technology accurately to not continue these misunderstandings.

  4. Hi Josh,

    I think this technology has a long way to go before it would ever amount to anything usable.

    For instance, there have been fingerprint logins for computers for years now, but I don’t think they’ve ever caught on.

    Yet, identifying people through smell “theoretically” doesn’t surprise me. Think of bloodhounds — they can track people through smell. Just because our sense of smell as humans isn’t very well developed, doesn’t mean the smell isn’t there and uniquely identifiable.

    But I have to agree with the commenter above on one thing: this falls into the realm of future stuff….

    – Anita

    • Thanks for the feedback Anita! It’s unfortunate that Josh did not get some points correct in his article above. I’d really like to see the article corrected for a more accurate reflection on the truths of biometrics.

  5. Interesting project. Scents change though. I know I don’t smell the same all the time, and that depends on a number of factors (what I’ve eaten, whether I’m on my period, how I’ve exerted myself, etc.)

    Wouldn’t it also make some people feel uncomfortable, more self-conscious?

  6. I agree that this idea has a long way to go before it could be implemented. The researchers say it’s only about 85 percent accurate. I wouldn’t trust that success rate for securing any business information, especially when passwords are likely much more accurate than that.

    I think the idea of something being intrusive is purely subjective. Some people have no qualms about submitting fingerprints or having anything else scanned as a means of identifying them. Personally, I have issues with any of these types of scans. How bizarre of a day at work would it be when all your employees line up for the smell test?

    That said, I could see something like a smell test being implemented at an airport. They’re looking for all types of explosives which I’m sure have very identifiable smells. I believe they’re using a hand wipe test now to check for traces of explosives.

    • When and if it reaches a higher accuracy rate (personally I think it should be at least 97%), I hope it’s thoroughly tested…and then tested again, before it’s rolled out. And when it’s rolled out, it should be done patiently, slowly and incrementally.

      I wouldn’t mind if this was at an airport and going through a check there, but at my place of work, no. Too futuristic/bondage/Matrix-like for me. I wouldn’t work there.

      • I agree, ebele. I would have a difficult time working at a place that went to these lengths.

      • I guess there are some companies (apart from airports) where, if this technology existed, I could see why they might have it installed. But, you wouldn’t find me working there.

        If I was already working at a place and then it was installed, I’d really have to consider if I wanted to continue there.