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Face recognition study

In a five-year, £6m project university researchers from across the UK with the Home Office will consider face recognition’s part in security.

Scientists from Stirling’s Face Research Lab will provide expertise on face perception to improve systems such as automated passport controls, which identify digital images of a person by comparing facial features against a database. Light, visibility and movement all affect system efficiency. Drivers for the new technology include the growing mobility of people, reliance on digital technology for commerce and e-government and providing enhanced global security and safety.

Stirling psychologist Prof Peter Hancock helped to develop facial recognition system EvoFIT, which is now used by police forces around the world to catch criminals. He will lead the Stirling team as they investigate the psychology behind how humans recognise familiar faces.

Prof Hancock said: “Humans are surprisingly poor at identifying faces they don’t know, even professionals such as passport controllers have difficulty matching people to their photographs. But we are much better than machines at recognising familiar faces and the challenge we are undertaking is to gain an understanding of what the process is that allows us to do this. One of the failed London bombers in 2005 was recognised by his parents from a poor quality CCTV image and that’s the end result that we want to achieve: to teach a machine to be as effective as we are at recognising known individuals.”

Digital technology for business and government brings with it questions of privacy. The project includes public engagement to consider concerns of privacy. Prof Hancock added: “Global security is the prime driver behind improving this technology, but there are also many commercial benefits.

“In the future it could be your bank will recognise you automatically at the cash machine and remove the need for pin numbers. The BBC are also interested in how it might make accessing their vast archive more efficient. In all of this though, we know privacy concerns are high and we want to create a technology which balances the issues of security with the need for privacy of the individual.”

The project starting January and funded by The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is a collaboration between researchers at Stirling, the University of Surrey; Imperial College London; figures in face biometrics and video analysis; the Home Office; the BBC and industry specialists including IBM.

Picture: Northampton town centre.


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