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Awful Or Awesome?: Facial Recognition Is Now Available To Any App For Free

Facial recognition is no longer limited to tech giants, thanks in part to open APIs that let your apps recognize people.

Awful Or Awesome?: Facial Recognition Is Now Available To Any App For Free
[People Collection: Rawpixel via Shutterstock]

Depending on where you sit on the techno-optimist scale, the advent of facial recognition is either a marvelous tool or the downfall of privacy as we know it. Either way, the ability of computers to recognize us is getting better, and now it’s cheaper and easier than ever to implement.

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Facial recognition is a computing-heavy technical endeavor, and as a result has generally been the domain of engineering teams at Google, Apple, and Facebook. But now there’s Face++, an API that any developer can use to weave face detection into whatever they’re building. And while it sells an enterprise-level service with better performance and some coding perks, Face++ starts out the way most devs like it: free.

The API can do basic things like determine if there’s a face in an image, track that face in the frame and recognize different points on it, like the eyes, mouth and so forth. This kind of functionality comes in handy for camera apps and any game that might make use of a phone’s camera, for instance.

From there, it gets more specific. Is the person smiling? How much are they smiling? What’s their gender? Race? How old are they? How are they posing? Face++ can pinpoint all of these general details about a given face.


If the implementation demands it, the API can even be used to identify a particular person based solely on an image of their face. Of course, for this feature to work, the software would need some kind of verifiable identity data to compare the image to–it doesn’t just ping Facebook and identify strangers out of the box.

The full-blown facial recognition feature of Face++ is being used by Lenovo to let users log into devices using only their faces. In the future, one can imagine far weirder uses.

Face++ isn’t the only open tool available for facial recognition. Lambda Labs has a general face recognition API, as well as one tailored to Google Glass specifically. OpenBR isn’t an API per se, but rather an open source framework that handles facial recognition, age estimation, and gender recognition.

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Judging from the banter on Hacker News, Face++’s API is relatively well received among those who know a thing or two about computer vision technology–even if the free version does occasionally misfire (a “grey-beard Swedish sysadmin was identified as a black woman” for instance). For those interested in giving it a whirl, there’s a browser-based demo of the Face++ API to toy with.

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About the author

John Paul Titlow is a writer at Fast Company focused on music and technology, among other things.

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