New Scientist Default Image

The way you walk may soon be used by authorities to identify you

Your walk is as unique as your fingerprint and harder to hide than your face. Now governments and companies are waking up to the power of gait analysis

Technology



16 September 2020

Science History Images/Alamy

LIAM GALLAGHER, formerly of the band Oasis, tends to stroll with a roll to his shoulders. John Wayne’s slow swagger has been linked to everything from a misaligned leg to small feet. Some say Vladimir Putin’s distinctive shuffle is thanks to KGB weapons training that encouraged operatives to dampen the swing of one arm to keep it closer to their gun.

Considering that walking is such an everyday function of a bipedal species, it is incredible that we find so many different ways to do it. Perhaps that’s why our gaits – and what they say about us – are so fascinating. It takes dozens of muscles working together throughout the body to put one foot in front of the other. These subtle patterns of muscular flexes and strains are highly distinctive, so much so that scientists who study gait increasingly believe they are as unique to you as your fingerprint.

Gait analysis has been around for years, but now it is going mainstream. China is using it to track its citizens. Transport companies want to use it to identify ticket holders. Doctors say an analysis of your strides might provide an early hint of health problems. But is this technology on a solid footing? And is it offering a step in the right direction or is it merely another worrisome invasion of our biometric privacy?

We have watched other people walk for centuries. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle was one of the first to pay attention, but no one was more obsessed with the subject than the 19th-century French novelist Honoré de Balzac. He peppered his books …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *