Dozens of companies around the world have been developing algorithms since last year to recognize a face even when it is partially hidden. In Japan, we have taken the lead. “Here, for a long time, many people have been wearing masks against the flu and allergies to pollen. We were told about the need for a suitable facial recognition system. With the coronavirus, demand has suddenly increased“, explains Shinya Takashima, one of the developers of this type of technology at NEC.
The process therefore consists in first identifying in less than a second that the person is wearing a mask, then in operating the face recognition only on the perceptible part with a dedicated algorithm: “We use as much as possible the various parts of the face that remain visible: the shape and size of the eyes, their spacing, the eyebrows, etc.“
NEC thus claims successful recognition with a mask 99.9% of the time, but perfection is the target.
The technology works to unlock smartphones, provided the manufacturer agrees to integrate it into their devices. This is not yet the case with NEC technology.
For the moment, one of the concrete uses that already exist is that of airlines which identify passengers by facial recognition for the formalities at the airport before boarding: now, for some of them, the system is working. with a mask. But, Shinya Takashima admits, “development was made more difficult by the fact that the masks are no longer all white: they are of different shapes and different colors. This complicates recognition. “
But that does not prevent it. Those who, concerned about not being seen or recognized, thought that a mask protected them from facial recognition systems are going to have to find something else.