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February 26, 2010

Future Barcodes Could Be Based on Human Scent

By Tony Dennis, Contributing Editor

Childrens' Lost Garments Are a Thing of the Past

It seems that the future evolution of barcodes could be based on human scent, or so says a report on the Spectrocopynow Web site. One advantage of scented barcodes could be that children would be less liable to lose their garments.
Story continues below ↓

As any parent knows, children have a nasty habit of losing gloves, hats, coats, and even shoes. Today it's possible to mark such clothing with 2D barcodes that can be read and recognized with any good camera phone, avoiding confusion when items are accidently mixed up.
Such a solution, however, requires patient parents to create the appropriate identification barcodes (with free software that is available online), print the codes onto fabric labels, and then sew those labels into potentially mislaid items.
Once found, the codes are 'scanned' using software on any suitable camera-equipped mobile phone, and the garments can be returned to their rightful owners.
Wouldn't it be so much better, however, if mobile phones could read barcodes based on human scent? The advantage here is that, as any good bloodhound will tell you, each person has a unique scent.
Now U.S.-based researchers believe they have found a way to recognize human scents. The findings have been made by Ken Furton from the International Forensic Research Institute at Florida International University. 
Furton’s group has been studying the various aspects of human scent, including identifying the compounds responsible for human scent and their variation between individuals.

Ken Furton and co-researchers Allison Curran and Paola Prada have examined the ability of the primary odor compounds to provide a biometric measure of an individual, and therefore create what Furton has decided to refer to as a “human barcode.”

Furton's report said that the relative ratios of the primary odor Volatile Organic Compounds [VOCs] can vary sufficiently from person to person to produce individual and distinguishable scent profiles.
These 'scent barcodes' could be used as a biometric measure for the exclusive identification of people, just like fingerprints and retinal prints which are unique.

So, in the future, instead of scanning 2D barcodes, a mobile phone could be used to read a scent barcode and determine to which garment belongs to whom from an online database. All the finder will need to do is call the grateful parents and return the item. Simple.
More details available from Journal of Forensic Sciences 
Tony Dennis is a freelance writer and communications consultant. To read more of his articles, please visit his
columnist page.

Edited by Amy Tierney
2010, 55, 50-57.

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