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Laurie Clarke


China’s Hanwang Technology claims it can ID mask-wearing faces

A Chinese company claims to have developed facial recognition that can successfully ID faces that are partially obscured by masks – which most are these days to ward off the risk of contracting coronavirus.

Hanwang Technology, which also goes by the English name Hanvon, began work on the technology in January shortly after the beginning of the viral outbreak, and rolled it out less than a month later.

“If connected to a temperature sensor, it can measure body temperature while identifying the person’s name, and then the system would process the result, say, if it detects a temperature over 38 degrees,” Hanwang Vice President Huang Lei told Reuters.

The firm said that it used core technology developed over the past ten years, a sample database of approximately 6 million unmasked faces and a far smaller database of masked faces, to create the technology.

The new technology is included in “single channel” recognition products best deployed at the entrance of buildings, for example. It’s also in “multi-channel” products, which the company claims can be deployed by multiple surveillance cameras to scan crowds and identify faces within a second in crowds of up to 30 people.

Huang told Reuters that when wearing a mask, the recognition rate can reach about 95 per cent; without he says it is 99.5 per cent.

The Ministry of Public Security, which runs the police, is a major customer of the company. It counts about 200 clients in Beijing using the technology and anticipates more more provinces to start installing it soon, Huang told Reuters.

He also predicts more foreign interest, as citizens across the world don face masks in the midst of the viral outbreak.

“It not only benefits Chinese people, but also, when the technology is applied globally, it can benefit the world,” he told Reuters.

Hanwang Technology is not the first to try to crack this. China’s SenseTime, the world’s most valuable AI startup, said in February that it was rolling out a facial-recognition product that combines thermal imaging cameras (to spot potential coronavirus carriers), with a mask algorithm, to detect those who are not wearing masks in public places.

It said that for building access control, its software can identify people even when they’re wearing masks with a “high accuracy”. “With these methods, management personnel are provided with a full range of epidemic prevention information such as body temperature, mask-wearing status, and employee identity,” the February 6 statement said.