Child-detecting algorithm locks down your phone in small hands

Putting phones in the hands on young children can lead to all sorts of parenting concerns, from inappropriate YouTube videos to long credit card bills. New research, however, could put a stop to these worries – paving the way for a generation of smartphones that can detect if a child is swiping their fingers, then automatically limiting access to apps.

Child-detecting algorithm locks down your phone in small hands

Researchers from the University of South Carolina and China’s Zhejiang University have created an algorithm that can pick up the finger movements of children using phones and tablets. They say this information can be used to lock down a phone, without the need for an activity-monitoring app that has to be switched on every time a device is handed to a child.  

As MIT Technology Review reports, the algorithms work based on judgements about children having smaller hands and shorter fingertips than adults. As well as smaller areas of pressure on the screen, children also move their fingers more clumsily and aren’t quick to switch between swiping and tapping.

To back these observations up with data, the researchers tested a group of children between the ages of three and 11, as well as a group of adults between the ages of 22 and 60. All were asked to unlock and Android phone and play a game that involves a combination of swipes and taps.

The study tracked the pressure and speed of finger movements on the screen, and this data allowed them to train an algorithm to automatically detect age. According to the researchers, the results are encouraging, with an accuracy of 84% after one swipe, and 97% after three. These results are to be being presented at a mobile technology conference in Arizona this week.

Further testing is need to see how the algorithm performs on smartphones, but the approach seems like it could be a great idea for parents anxious about where their children may tap.

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