A new lab is working to perfect special shoe insoles that can help monitor access to high-security areas, such as nuclear power plant or military bases, by using sensors within the insoles to check the pressure of feet, monitor gait and use and microcomputer to compare the patterns to a master file for that person to verify his or her identity, according to an article from The Associated Press.

This is a biometric shoe – a concept based on research that shows each person has unique feet and ways of walking. If the patterns match the bio-soles’ master file, the sensors go to sleep. If they don’t, a wireless alarm message can be sent out, the article says.

Carnegie Mellon University’s new Pedo-Biometrics Lab in Pittsburg has $1.5 million in startup funding, and is a partnership with Autonomous ID, a Canadian company that is relocating to several U.S. cities. Autonomous ID has been working on prototypes since 2009, with the goal of making a relatively low-cost ID system.

Todd Gray, company president, said that tests have already been run on sample bio-soles, which are no thicker than a common foot pad sold in pharmacies, and achieved an accuracy rate of more than 99 percent, the AP article reports.

According to Gray, Carnegie Mellon will broaden the tests to include “a full spectrum of society: big, tall, thin, heavy, athletic, multicultural, on a diet, twins and so on.”

He did not speculate on what the system will cost or when it might be available, but each worker at a site would have his or her own pair of bio-soles, the AP article says.

“Within the third step, it knows it’s you, and it goes back to sleep,” he said. “If I put on yours, it would know almost instantly that I’m not you.”

While the technology may be new, the thought behind it is not – the U.S. Department of Defense has been funding millions of dollars of gait research, as has the Chinese government, in recent years, says AP. The Institute of Intelligent Machines is also doing extensive research into gait biometrics, including reports of systems where a floor monitors footsteps without people’s knowledge.

Bio-soles might also have medical uses, the article notes. Several papers presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Vancouver suggest changes in how elderly people walk, such as slowing pace or variable stride, can provide early warning signs of dementia.

Gray says that the technology is less invasive of privacy than eye scans or other biometrics, in part because the individual data stays within the bio-soles.

However, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco nonprofit that monitors free speech and privacy issues, says that there the insoles could be potential tracking devices, but that the soles themselves “might make a person feel a little bit better” than other security systems.