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Apple awarded patent for 3D facial recognition system rumored to debut with next iPhone

The system uses depth map to reduce the error rate in face detection.


Adding more weight to the rumors about the upcoming iPhone featuring a revolutionary 3D camera, the US Patent and Trademark Office has granted a patent to Apple that uses computer vision technology to recognize human faces. Titled ‘Enhanced face detection using depth information,’ inclusion of the technology will essentially allow the iPhone to scan and process a digital image using a depth map to cut down on incorrect detection.

It is worth noting that the depth mapping system is based on infrared motion tracking technology developed by PrimeSense, Israeli motion capture specialists which Apple acquired in 2013. As described in the patent, the technology applies specialized hardware and software system for object recognition. The underlying software is capable of scanning a digital image or digital live video feed and decoding whether a portion of the frame contains a face. The face detection algorithms can further identify when people in the scene are located at different distances from the camera.

In order to reduce error rates, the system adds depth information to existing face detection algorithms. This essentially measures the distance between the object or face and the camera in a given feed. This depth map can be used to scale window sizes according to depth coordinates based on standard face size. For this depth mapping, infrared light emission system is used which projects a pattern of optical radiation onto a scene. This light is in turn processed and converted into a corresponding depth map. ALSO READ: Here’s how Apple plans to ditch the home button on the iPhone 8

Apple patent

While such a system with motion tracking and depth mapping is capable of detecting faces, it lacks the ability to authenticate that face. Now, this contradicts some reports which indicated that the 3D camera will be incorporated in the iPhone 8 specifically for biometric authentication. However, what makes the technology a possible inclusion is that it can be used to capture selfies with more depth. In the past, analyst KGI Ming-Chi Kuo has said that the upcoming high-end iPhone 8 will come with a “revolutionary” front camera along with the infrared module that can sense the 3D space in front of the smartphone.

Based on Kuo’s report, the front camera module will feature a camera lens produced by Sony and an infrared receiver manufactured by Foxconn. This description falls in line with the latest patent granted to Apple. Although the system could find use in iris recognition for security, 3D selfies or gaming, it is unclear if it make it to the upcoming iPhone. ALSO READ: Apple iPhone 8 to feature ‘revolutionary’ front camera that lets you click 3D selfies: Report

Apple is expected to take the wraps off its anniversary edition iPhone later this year and the high-end variant is likely to boast higher-level water and dust resistance, a faster processor, and an improved rear camera

BONUS VIDEO: 10th Anniversary of the iPhone: Highlights from the 2007 keynote with Steve Jobs

  • Published Date: March 10, 2017 12:44 PM IST

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