Within a year, people have gone from suspecting those covering their face for various reasons to being scared of those who don’t wear a facemask in public as they may spread the coronavirus. Some regions, and even countries, have made it mandatory to use faceguards. But this may hamper the very purpose of facial recognition systems.
Facial recognition identifies people with the help of combining facial features, such as the distinctive position of one’s eyes, nose, mouth, and chin. It’s easily done when used as facial verification of individuals, but gets a tad bit difficult when used in crowded places and so requires much more data to accurately identify someone.
There were already several ways to hinder the detection, like number plate reading disruption, and since the pandemic started, when people use masks, the system gets confused as they can only read the relative positons of one’s facial characteristics.
A research was conducted, by US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), to see how masks had an impact on facial recognition systems around the world. It showed that up to 50% of the time, the systems are struggling to recognize people when they’re wearing facemasks – and some can’t even detect faces through a mask at all.
Since the systems don’t have enough data on mask-wearing people to identify them, the NIST study suggested to place masks of various colors and sizes on images of individuals to train the system. The method may not be perfect but it is effective as the system is now focusing on detection based on the position of people’s nose under the mask.
As we still don’t have any vaccine in sight, we can’t tell for how long it would be considered to breaking the law if one doesn’t wear a mask. And so, facial recognition will need to improve and need to be based on visible features such as eyes, eyebrows and the shape of the face.
Fortunately, such technologies are already in the works with various upgrades providing better results of recognition. And companies are also starting to produce and deliver custom-made masks with clients’ faces on them.