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China, facial recognition evolves to identify people with masks

A Chinese company says it has developed the country's first facial recognition technology that can identify people when they wear a mask, like most of these days due to the coronavirus and help in the fight against the disease.

China employs

Some of the most sophisticated electronic surveillance systems in the world, including facial recognition.

The coronavirus, which emerged in Hubei province at the end of last year, has resulted in almost everyone wearing an open-air surgical mask hoping to avoid the virus, which represents a particular problem for surveillance.

Now Hanwang Technology Ltd, which is also known by the English name of Hanvon, said it has created a technology that can successfully recognize people even when they wear masks.

"If it is connected to a temperature sensor, you can measure the body temperature while identifying the person's name and then the system will process the result, for example, if it detects a temperature above 38 degrees", Hanwang Vice President Huang Lei told Reuters in an interview.

The Beijing-based firm

He said a team of 20 employees used core technology developed in the last 10 years, a sample database of approximately 6 million faces without a mask and a much smaller database of masked faces, to develop the technology,

The team began working on the system in January, when the coronavirus outbreak accelerated and began launching it into the market after only one month.

It sells two main types of products that use technology. One performs the recognition of «Single channel» which is best used, for example, at entrances to office buildings.

The other product

More powerful, it is a recognition system «Multichannel» what do you use «Multiple surveillance cameras».

You can identify everyone in a crowd of up to 30 people "in a second", says Huang.

"When a mask is used, the recognition rate can reach approximately 95 percent, which can ensure that most people can be identified", Huang said, adding that the success rate for people without a mask is about 99.5 percent.

Using Hanwang Technology

The ministry can cross-reference images with its own database of names and other information and then identify and track people as they move, Huang said.

«You can detect crime suspects, terrorists or make reports or warnings», said.

But the system struggles to identify people with a mask and sunglasses, he said.

“In this situation, all the key facial information is lost. In such cases, recognition is difficult ”, Huang said.

The company

It has about 200 customers in Beijing that use the technology, including the police, and expect more than 20 provinces to start installing it soon, Huang said.

It is not immediately clear how Chinese citizens are reacting to this new technology.

When it comes to other surveillance tools that are used in the fight against the coronavirus, there have been some complaints on social networks, but most people seem to accept additional intrusions, or even embrace them, as a means to deal with the emergency of health.

National customers

They have been running Hanwang's business, Huang also said he expected more foreign interest, as the virus spreads all over the world and more people wear facial masks.

"Not only benefits the Chinese, but also when technology is applied globally, it can benefit the world", said.