The NEC Corporation is garnering headlines for its ability to recognize people who are wearing masks. The company updated its facial recognition algorithm in September, and now reports that it is able to confirm the identity of a masked individual with 99.9 percent accuracy.
While the update was a response to COVID-19, the feature was in development long before the pandemic. NEC first started working to improve its mask performance to accommodate people who wear masks to deal with allergies, a practice that is far more common in Japan than it is in the United States. The pandemic simply created much more urgency, and motivated NEC to speed up the development and deployment of the updated system.
“Touchless verification has become extremely important due to the impact of the coronavirus,” said NEC Digital Platform Assistant Manager Shinya Takashima, in an interview with Reuters. “Going forward we hope to contribute to safety and peace of mind by strengthening [efforts] in that area.”
The authentication process takes less than a second, and compares a new image of the user to a photo that has already been registered with the system. If the algorithm determines that the person is wearing a mask, it focuses on the parts of the face that remain visible (such as the eyes) to enable a potential match.
NEC officially started selling the improved system in October. The technology has already been integrated into the Star Alliance’s new Star Alliance Biometrics platform, which uses facial recognition to speed up the passenger screening process and is currently available to Lufthansa and SWISS travelers. NEC is also using the technology in a contactless payments trial at a convenience store located at its Tokyo headquarters.
According to Reuters, NEC is hoping that its biometrics and video analysis business will generate 100 billion yen (approximately $970 million) in sales in the 2021 fiscal year. The company’s facial recognition technology is part of that portfolio.
January 7, 2021 – by Eric Weiss