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Vu’s Google award supports research in capacitive touchscreen communication

As society relies more and more on smartphones, tablets and other post-PC devices, traditional methods for identifying and authenticating users are becoming cumbersome and time-consuming. Tam Vu, assistant professor in computer science and engineering, is addressing this problem through his research project “One Ring to Rule Them All.” The project aims to provide a ubiquitous solution for user identification and authentication through a novel communication technique called capacitive touchscreen communication. Vu received a one-year Google Research Award to help support his efforts, the first Google Award for CU Denver, and the fourth for the University of Colorado system.

“Our initial invention of the technology had shown a very promising result and was well received by both academic and industrial audiences,” says Vu. “These initial outcomes encouraged us to apply for the awards from Google.”

The capacitive touchscreen communication technology has the ability to change the way society uses smartphones and other portable devices. According to Vu, the maturity of mobile personal and smart devices creates a strong need for authentication methods that are both secure and convenient.

“Existing technologies often fail on one of the two requirements, if not both,” he explains. “Our proposed method of authentication utilizing the novel capacitive touch communication method is unique and timely. It makes use of the popular touch screens and touch surfaces as a communication medium, eliminating the need to use the legacy wireless communication that is known to be prone to eavesdropping.”

This new method uses the universal capacitive touchscreens found in today’s electronic devices as receivers for decoding identification and authentication information transmitted from custom-designed, wearable hardware tokens, such as a ring or a watch. The goal is to unify all forms of authentication tokens, including credit cards, SIM cards and car keys into a single, wearable ring.

“I am so humbled to have been chosen for this award knowing that there were many qualified proposals submitted,” says Vu. “The funds will go far in helping us push our capacitive touchscreen communication technology to security and privacy protection practice. We are currently working closely with our sponsor contact at Google to move the project forward.”

Vu joined the college in fall 2013 after completing his PhD at the WINLAB/Department of Computer Science at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He currently heads the Mobile and Networked Systems lab within the Department of Computer Science, where they work on various aspects of mobile systems and wireless networks including mobile healthcare, mobile communications, mobile context discovery, mobile-centric Internet architecture and mobile system security and privacy. Outside of work, Vu enjoys photographing coffee shops around the city, watching TED® talks and hanging out with friends and family.

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