If you want to identify people, what could be more natural than looking at their faces? Humans identify each other in this way, accurately and quickly, even in poor light or with a partially obscured view. Yet for computers, facial recognition has proved extremely difficult - restricting its commercial application - until now.
In the past two years, technological advances have led to facial recognition being used for applications including access control, time and attendance recording, and security checking. Analysts are forecasting strong market growth. 'Facial recognition is now a viable technology,' says Emma Newham, an analyst at SJB Services, a market research company based in Somerset.
'Its share of the "biometrics" market has risen from zero to 11.8% since the end of 1996.' The technology measures the distance between facial features such as the eyes, nose, mouth and ears. This is effective even if an individual is wearing glasses rather than contact lenses, has a new hairstyle, or has grown a beard while on holiday.