Check Out Cornell’s Wireless Biometric Pen Drive Prototype

April 10, 2016 by Zabrel Holsman

Two engineers from Cornell have combined the functionalities of a wireless pen drive with a biometric data security system, can they make it commercially viable?

Two engineers from Cornell have combined the functionalities of a wireless pen drive with a biometric data security system, can they make it commercially viable?

A pen drive is a Universal Serial Bus (USB) flash memory device that allows us to store and exchange data, video, and audio with a computer by connecting to a USB port. A recent innovation by Nathan Spallone and Zhiyuan Teo combined a wireless mass storage device, an induction coil for wireless charging, LED screen, and fingerprint scanner into a single device capable of wireless biometrics.

There are numerous ways that biometrics have been used to enhance data security such as fingerprint scanners or externally encrypted disks, but no other device has been configured to combine the two components to perform together in any capacity.


A packaged version of the biometric wireless pen drive.


The device is moderately complex but boasts great potential for a consumer market. The software used in the device is primarily a compilation of the libraries Spallone and Teo built; it boots each onboard device and starts the main program string. Once booted, the device asks for a fingerprint; and once validated it searches the filesystem for any files located in the user’s region. If a file is found it is directed over a communication channel and arrives in a remote command loop where the data can be accessed.

The device was considered successful as it was capable of receiving a data file, wrote it to a disk, and was able to transfer the file back after a shutdown. It was also capable of storing 20 unique fingerprints, and each fingerprint has its own private storage space. The wireless transfer was made using an RF module running a proprietary mode called Shockburst. The module can theoretically bolster speeds up to 1mbps over a 5 MHz clocked Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI). Although the speed of the device is definitely not up to par, there have been zero cases of packet loss in any transmission. The only issues that affected performance were located in the software, which caused delays in the nRF module making it unable to receive packets of data that were mid transfer; the issues were fixed with some careful debugging.


A diagram of the pen drive's power and data transfer

The device utilizes the ever popular 2.4 GHz band, and was capable of maintaining a zero-loss transmission across the nRF modules even when in high traffic wifi areas. The device has very high practicality and does not require the user to plus into a control every time they want to access or manipulate a file. The only button on the device is a power switch, and can even be activated wirelessly, and the only motion the user needs to make is to touch their finger to the fingerprint scanner. The LED screen is monochromic, meaning any colorblind user will be able to operate the device. There happens to be a single restriction to using the device, the user must be able to access and manipulate another computer locally or remotely; which makes sense as a pen drive is by definition is only effective when used in combination with a computer. 

Multitudes of biometric drives have been available to purchase in the last few years, however, none seems to have patented or designed a device which was capable of combining these functionalities. The device could be scaled down rather easily into something the size of a small envelope, however, was not done so in the prototype due to time constraints. The device was also very inexpensive to configure, as the components added up to a mere $94.18; bought from a consumer standpoint.

All images courtesy of Cornell University. You can find Nathan Spallone and Zhiyuan Teo's project here.