A patent shows how facial recognition drones could identify you from above

An Israeli biometrics startup called AnyVision with ties to Israel’s military has applied for a U.S. patent on technology that tells drones how to maneuver to capture better facial recognition images of people on the ground.

Facial recognition technology has become widely used by law enforcement around the world, but the technology is controversial in part for its accuracy issues, especially when recognizing Black and brown faces. Activists are now calling for ending its use entirely, and police use of facial recognition has already been banned in a host of U.S. cities.

The patent application, titled “Adaptive Positioning of Drones for Enhanced Face Recognition,” describes a computer vision system that analyzes the angle of a drone camera in relation to the face of a person on the ground, then instructs the drone on how to improve its vantage point. The system can then send that image through a machine-learning model trained to classify individual faces. The model sends back a classification with a probability score. If the probability score falls below a certain threshold, the whole process starts over again.

A future defined by this type of mass surveillance would “obliterate privacy and anonymity in public as we know it,” said Kade Crockford, head of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts who’s led the charge on banning facial recognition in Massachusetts cities, in an interview with Fast Company last year. “Weirdly this is not a hugely controversial issue for voters. People don’t want the government to be tracking them by their face every time they leave their house.”

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As with any patent application, there’s no guarantee the technology will show up in a real product. But it does address a very real technical problem with existing facial recognition systems. Such systems usually process images captured by stationary cameras. Capturing a clear angle on someone’s face, and compensating for bad ones, is always a challenge with these systems. Shooting video from drones that can move around and intelligently zero in on the right angle is a way of taking the chance out of the process.

The application, which was originally reported by Forbes cybersecurity writer Thomas Brewster, was filed last summer and published by the U.S. Patent Office on February 4.

AnyVision, which was founded in 2015, sells artificial intelligence designed to let cameras in retail stores recognize the faces of people on “watch lists” who have been convicted of theft in the past. The technology can also support contactless entry systems where a person’s face acts as their “key” to go through a door or past a turnstile.

“Facial recognition with drones is a technology that may be used in the future for package delivery,” AnyVision CEO Avi Golan said in an email statement to Fast Company. “Any major player in the delivery business is looking at ‘last mile’ solutions including facial recognition for fast and easy personal identification.” Golan says drone facial recognition technology might also be used in mines to keep track of employees for safety purposes.

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Source: Mark Sullivan

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