Facial fiction becoming fact

Facial recognition tecnhologies continue to improve in performance


     When it comes to the imaging debate, Dr. Joseph Atick, executive vice president and chief strategic officer of L-1 Identity Solutions of Stamford, Connecticut, does not believe 3D imaging is the future of the technology. "Higher-resolution 2D is more important than 3D," he says. "In 3D all you are getting is facial structure. With higher-resolution 2D images you receive more information to help identify a face."

     He adds that 3D information could be created from a 2D image without needing the complexities of a 3D camera system. Atick believes there is too much hype with 3D imaging, and recent NIST test results confirm his belief.

     Facial recognition technology was originally developed to help landmark the face with approximately 80 characteristics. However, these characteristics are not the only information that helps identify a face. "Four years ago, we discovered that high-resolution images gave us skin texture analysis," Atick explains. "It helped improve facial identification, and we just didn't feel there was a good return on investment for 3D [compared to high-resolution 2D]."

Offerings address challenges

     Several issues continue to challenge the facial recognition market including negative perceptions, tight budgets, image collection limitations and more. But manufacturers continue to develop new technologies to confront these challenges.

     Paul Schuepp, CEO of Conway, New Hampshire-based Animetrics, feels facial recognition technology received a bad reputation because of previous failed attempts. He believes one of the technology's limitations is that it is too controlled in trying to compare faces on documents to a central database. "The real need is a passive/active surveillance mode," Schuepp explains. "Lighting and environment vary greatly and this can be a problem. For example, a camera in bright light will actually lose information and [parts of data will] get washed out." The ability to account for the variables is essential for the technology.

     Schuepp believes part of the problem is the way algorithms look at pixels. Unlike a fixed image found in fingerprints, the face is always changing and that creates challenges. When it comes to the image debate, he says, "most programs today work in 2D, but it really is a 3D world. You need to have X, Y and Z angles at your disposal."

     With Animetrics' FACEngine, a camera zooms in on faces and compares them to a database in a 3D way, taking into account lighting, angles and more. FACEngine also can turn a 2D image into a 3D avatar, which Schuepp says is especially important with AmberView where time is of the essence.

     Jonathan Forrester, vice president of marketing for Alive Tech, sees a combination of tight budgets and perceptions as limiting the technology's growth. "Public perception is that fingerprints are infallible, but if you look at it, you will find cases of wrongful arrests and false releases," he says. "Also, when was the last time you walked down a hallway and were able to identify someone based upon their fingerprints?"

     Alive Tech has had success with its facial recognition technology in the law enforcement community of its home base, Atlanta, Georgia. Here the Geometrix 3D ID System assists in prison enrollment and release. "There are 100,000 images in our database and we have had no false releases," says Forrester.

     The product helps address the tremendous number of aliases used by suspects. Forrester notes that about 56 percent of all suspects booked have an alias. "With Geometrix," he says, "once your face is in the database, it cannot be duplicated."

     Facilities using the system also can share databases, increasing the chances of catching aliases and preventing false releases.

     Forrester believes professionals can no longer rely on the old method of human facial recognition based on print photographs and memory. There are many different ways in which this technology can add value. "If someone tries to use a stolen prox card, at a courthouse for example, the system will compare the person's face to the prox card owner," he says. "When the faces don't match, the system will lock the person out and raise an alert."

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