An application that lets users point a smart phone at a stranger and immediately learn about them premiered last Tuesday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Developed by The Astonishing Tribe (TAT), a Swedish mobile software and design firm, the prototype software combines computer vision, cloud computing, facial recognition, social networking, and augmented reality.
“It’s taking social networking to the next level,” says Dan Gärdenfors, head of user experience research at TAT. “We thought the idea of bridging the way people used to meet, in the real world, and the new Internet-based ways of congregating would be really interesting.”
TAT built the augmented ID demo, called Recognizr, to work on a phone that has a five-megapixel camera and runs the Android operating system. A user opens the application and points the phone’s camera at someone nearby. Software created by Swedish computer-vision firm Polar Rose then detects the subject’s face and creates a unique signature by combining measurements of facial features and building a 3-D model. This signature is sent to a server where it’s compared to others stored in a database. Providing the subject has opted in to the service and uploaded a photo and profile of themselves, the server then sends back that person’s name along with links to her profile on several social networking sites, including Twitter or Facebook. The Polar Rose software also tracks the position of the subject’s head–TAT uses this information to display the subject’s name and icons for the Web links on the phone’s screen without obscuring her face.
“It’s a very robust approach” to facial recognition, says Andrew Till, vice president of marketing solutions at Teleca, a mobile software consulting company in the United Kingdom. “It’s much, much better than what I’ve previously seen.”
Till says that applying image and face recognition to the trend of posting photos on social networking sites opens up interesting new possibilities. “You start to move into very creative ways of pulling together lots of services in a very beneficial way for personal uses, business uses, and you start to get into things that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to do,” he says.
Polar Rose’s algorithms can run on the iPhone and on newer Android phones, says the company’s chief technical officer and founder, Jan Erik Solem. The augmented ID application uses a cloud server to do the facial recognition primarily because many subjects will be unknown to the user (so there won’t be a matching photo on the phone), but also to speed up the process on devices with less processing power.