You may be unlocking your phone with your fingerprint right now, but pretty soon facial recognition could be the key to your devices.
According to a new report from The Wall Street Journal, some companies are already working on ways to implement sophisticated facial recognition into new security systems.
QualcommInc., an industry leader in mobile device chips, recently introduced its Spectra imaging system, which can extract depth information from objects including faces. The company plans to include the technology in a forthcoming generation of its flagship Snapdragon mobile processors. Meanwhile, when firmware for AppleInc.’s forthcoming HomePod speaker leaked online, developers spotted clues suggesting that an upcoming iPhone might have similar depth perception and facial recognition.
If this technology sounds familiar, it’s a sort of shrunken-down version of the Xbox 360’s Kinect motion sensor. Perhaps not coincidentally, Apple acquired an early Kinect developer, the Israeli startup PrimeSense, in 2013.
Meanwhile, Qualcomm says it plans to make its Spectra processor available for future Android phones. Previous Samsung image processors that did face recognition could be fooled by holding up a photo of someone’s face to a phone’s camera. Qualcomm insists that depth perception gives the added bonus of “live-ness detection.” As a result, a 3-D printed mask wouldn’t be able to fool the system, though the company admits identical twins might.
Although facial recognition could mean more secure devices, it also could come with some significant trade offs.
The facial algorithms can be stymied by the presence or absence of glasses, especially sunglasses. The annoyance of having to take off your winter gloves to unlock your phone might be replaced by the annoyance of having to re-enroll your face if your facial hair changed.
All biometrics have their trade-offs—your irises may be even more unique than your face, but to scan them you have to bring the phone close to your eye. And since an iris lacks contour, it can still be spoofed by a still image. If you fail the facial scan, or if you’re wearing something that covers your face, you’ll have to punch in a code instead.
Whatever the case, this new technology could quickly become commonplace, just as fingerprint scans are widely accepted today as completely normal.