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Reading Your Face: How Does Facial Recognition Work?

Biometric Post
Jan 31, 2023
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Biometric Post
Reading Your Face: How Does Facial Recognition Work?

Human faces have long been used to communicate emotion and identity, but with the advent of facial recognition technology, it is now possible to use this to verify a person's identity and even track their movements. We've all seen it in the movies and actually in our everyday life (such as unlocking your iPhone with your face), but how does facial recognition work? Let's dive into the world of facial recognition systems and see how they can benefit both businesses and individuals. This blog post will explore face detection technologies, facial recognition algorithms, biometric data privacy, etc. - all you need to understand is this technology so that your decisions are well-informed.

What is Facial Recognition?

Facial recognition is a biometric technology that uses the unique and distinct characteristics of an individual’s face to identify them. It works by analyzing the patterns and shapes of faces to create a unique template - Data about facial features, which can be used to identify people.

Facial Recognition: Identifying Individuals by Analyzing Unique Facial Features
Facial Recognition: Identifying Individuals by Analyzing Unique Facial Features

Faces in video streams can also be recognized by using facial recognition technology, even if the person's face is partially obscured. While it can recognize a person simply based on their face, this technology is frequently used in conjunction with other biometrics and authentication options such as fingerprint, RFID card, or QR code to perform two-factor authentication or multi-factor authentication for added security.

Types of Facial Recognition Technology

Facial recognition technology has come a long way over the last decade and is now faster, more accurate, and more secure than ever before. There are several types of facial recognition technology based on the types of facial images that are used to identify people. These include 2D, 3D, facial recognition at a distance, and thermal imaging.

✅ 2D facial recognition systems

2D facial recognition systems utilize standard digital images captured by typical cameras found in devices such as facial recognition access control terminals, biometric tablets, or smartphones. These systems identify faces by comparing them to a pre-captured database of images. This is the most common form of facial recognition technology, as it is generally less expensive and easier to implement than 3D or other methods.

An Example of 3D Facial Recognition Technology
An Example of 2D Facial Recognition Technology

The 2D facial recognition system is constructed through a mathematical model focused on extracting information from a digital image in order to recognize face nodal points and their distances on a human face - such as the eyes or nose size. This type of facial recognition software and algorithm works by comparing face features within an image with those of known data sets, allowing it to accurately produce an individual's identity.

There are several techniques used in 2D facial recognition, such as Eigenfaces, 2D Principal Component Analysis (PCA), Linear Discriminant Analysis (LDA), etc. Each of these facial recognition techniques has its own unique characteristics and benefits.

✅ 3D face recognition technology

In recent years, the 3D face recognition system has gained more attention. 3D face recognition uses stereoscopic images taken from 3D scanners to create a three-dimensional model of a person's face. This type of facial recognition is more reliable, as it captures the depths and features that are beyond the scope of a 2D image to overcome lighting, expression, and pose variation.

An Example of 3D Facial Recognition Technology
An Example of 3D Facial Recognition Technology

However, 3D scanners are extremely expensive, making them unsuitable for most applications. There are now less expensive (yet still effective) alternatives for capturing 3D facial data, making it a viable option for face recognition applications. This increases the technology's accessibility and popularity among users.

There are cost-effective methods for capturing the 3D face image without breaking the bank, such as using multiple 2D cameras to collect multiple images and reconstruct a 3D model. Furthermore, deep learning-based reconstruction is possible by projecting grid light onto someone's face and capturing the reflected pattern. We can then use powerful deep-learning algorithms to convert these reflections into accurate 3D facial images. The Apple FACE ID system is a great example of this. It uses an infrared camera and dot projector to accurately map your face by measuring the depth and shape of your facial features. This data is then compared against a pre-stored image to verify identity.

✅ Face recognition at a distance

Facial recognition technology has evolved to enable identification from a distance, enhancing its adaptability for access control and surveillance applications. Known as "face recognition at a distance", this technology is increasingly popular for monitoring wide areas and identifying uncooperative individuals without close interaction.

Example of Face Recognition at a Distance
Example of Face Recognition at a Distance. Image by Face Recognition at a Distance System for Surveillance Applications

These systems, powered by active-vision technologies, advanced facial recognition algorithms, and Artificial Intelligence (AI), can detect and identify faces from up to 15 meters away in real-time. They integrate seamlessly with existing CCTV setups, enhancing security in public areas with minimal human oversight. Capable of operating effectively in diverse and uncontrolled environments, these systems benefit from ongoing enhancements in AI and deep learning, which continuously improve their accuracy and efficiency.

As face recognition at a distance becomes more common, it is important to consider the balance between enhancing security and addressing privacy concerns, ensuring that the deployment of such technologies is done responsibly and with proper safeguards against misuse.

✅ Thermal face recognition

Lastly, thermal imaging is increasingly utilized for facial recognition. A thermal face recognition system uses infrared cameras to pick up heat radiation emitted from the skin of the face, creating unique signatures that are derived from its thermal properties.

Images of a subject taken in various lighting conditions, using both visible light and thermal imaging cameras.
Images of a subject taken in various lighting conditions, using both visible light and thermal imaging cameras.

This technology is particularly useful for face recognition applications in dark areas, where visible light cameras are less effective due to the lack of contrast in facial features. Thermal imaging systems can recognize faces that are partially occluded, making them ideal for facial recognition applications in poor lighting environments.

How Facial Recognition Works?

Now that we've explored the various types of facial recognition technology, let's take a closer look at how it works. Facial recognition is the process of using facial recognition devices and algorithms to identify faces in digital images or videos.


A typical facial recognition process typically consists of four steps: face detection, facial feature extraction, face verification/identification, and decision-making. We'll take a look at each of these steps in detail.

1) Face detection:

The facial recognition process starts with face detection, which is the process of detecting and locating a human face in an image or video. This is accomplished through the use of special face recognition software that uses an algorithm to identify key facial features and then "mark" them for future recognition.

There're several techniques used for face detection, including Viola-Jones algorithm, Histogram of Oriented Gradients (HOG), Support Vector Machine (SVMs), Deep Learning, etc. The most popular technique is the Viola-Jones algorithm, which uses a set of Haar cascades to detect faces in an image or video.

2) Face normalization:

Once a face is detected, the next step is face normalization. This process adjusts the detected face to ensure consistency in size, orientation, and lighting across different images. Normalization helps to standardize the facial images, reducing variations due to different camera angles, expressions, and environmental lighting, thus preparing the images for accurate feature extraction.

3) Facial feature extraction:

With the face normalized, facial feature extraction begins. This involves using facial recognition software and algorithms to identify critical points on the face, such as the eyes, nose, and mouth. These points are used to create a unique facial template, which serves as a detailed map of the face for further identity verification and identification.

4) Face verification/identification:

After the facial feature map has been created, it is then compared to existing facial templates in a database. Biometric facial recognition algorithms can then determine if the face matches any of the existing maps, allowing for verification (1:1) or identification (1:N) to take place. There're several approaches used for facial verification/identification, such as Holistic Matching, Local Feature Analysis (LFA), Elastic Bunch Graph Matching (EBGM), and more.

5) Decision-making:

Finally, after the facial recognition algorithm has determined whether or not a face is present, it then makes an educated decision on what to do with the information. This could include granting or denying access, displaying relevant information about the user, etc.

Also, Face Liveness Detection for spoofing prevention is a must in the process of facial recognition. This technology is designed to confirm if the person in front of a camera is truly alive and not an image, mask, or video. To guarantee this security measure, algorithms analyze facial features such as eye blinking and head movement alongside facial expressions. This level of scrutiny works actively against any spoofing attempts while also making sure that your security system remains safe at all times.

The 10 Applications of Facial Recognition

The use of facial recognition has surged in recent years, becoming increasingly prevalent across various industries due to its accuracy, reliability, and contactless nature. Below are some of the most common applications:

1) Physical access control:

Facial recognition can be used for physical access control, such as to securely unlock doors, control access to restricted areas, and track attendance. This technology is becoming increasingly popular in businesses, government buildings, schools, hotels, etc., as it provides a secure and efficient way to control access.

Examples of Using Facial Recognition for Physical Access Control in a Workspace and two Construction Sites
Examples of Using Facial Recognition for Physical Access Control

Read more:

How to Choose the Ideal Facial Recognition Access Control System

2) Security surveillance:

Facial recognition has become a mainstay in security surveillance systems - from crowded public areas like airports and stadiums to restricted zones.

Using Facial Recognition in Security Surveillance Systems
Using Facial Recognition in Security Surveillance Systems

When this tech is integrated with CCTV, the footage can be monitored in real-time, and information on possible suspicious people or objects can instantly be collected; all thanks to its artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning which raise accuracy levels of recognizing anomalies.

3) Mobile device authentication:

Smartphones have leveraged facial recognition to provide an extensive layer of security, surpassing other traditional methods such as PINs or passcodes.

Examples of Using Facial Recognition To Unlock Mobile Phones
Examples of Using Facial Recognition To Unlock Mobile Phones

Apple's Face ID is the most renowned example of mobile face recognition. Further, this technology has allowed for more secure authentication measures like payment protection and app authorization on our mobile devices.

4) Law enforcement:

Law enforcement agencies also use facial recognition to help them identify suspects and criminals.

A police department uses facial recognition to identify suspects and criminals.
A police department uses facial recognition to identify suspects and criminals. Image by WPLG Local 10

Police departments all over the world have been using this technology to quickly identify criminal suspects within a sizable database of photos.

5) Retail:

Face recognition systems can also be used in retail settings to identify VIP customers, monitor in-store traffic, and provide insights into customer behavior.

Examples of Deploying Facial Recognition in Retail Stores
Examples of Deploying Facial Recognition in Retail Stores

Facial recognition is also helping retailers reduce theft by using facial recognition to quickly identify those who may have previously stolen from stores.

6) Border control:

Facial recognition offers a reliable way to authenticate travelers at borders, ensuring only those who are authorized can enter.

Examples of Using Facial Recognition for Border Control
Examples of Using Facial Recognition for Border Control

Additionally, self-service kiosks that use facial recognition have become increasingly popular in airports - enhancing the passenger experience while simultaneously reducing reliance on human labor and keeping security standards high.

Read more:

A Guide to Airport Self Check-in Kiosks

7) Healthcare:

Healthcare organizations are beginning to use facial recognition technology to accurately identify patients and verify their information when accessing healthcare services.

Examples of Using Facial Recognition in Healthcare
Examples of Using Facial Recognition in Healthcare

It can be used to quickly identify a patient and confirm their identity, making the process more efficient while keeping medical records secure.

8) Finance:

Banks and other financial institutions are starting to leverage facial recognition technology to enhance security at ATMs, validate customer identities in online banking services, and detect fraud. As such, facial recognition technology is becoming increasingly popular in the financial industry as it allows for a secure and seamless experience when accessing banking services. OCBC, for example, is one of the first few banks in South-East Asia to successfully implement facial recognition technology in its ATMs.

9) Education:

Schools are increasingly adopting facial recognition technology to enhance student safety and streamline security processes. This technology enables swift identification of students for secure access, facilitating efficient attendance tracking and contributing to a safer school environment.

Examples of Using Facial Recognition at School Campus
Examples of Using Facial Recognition at School Campus

Reade more:

Case Study: School Access Control for Beijing Dance Academy

10) Social media:

Social networking sites are leveraging facial recognition technology to identify users in photos and videos, helping to quickly identify people and make tagging easier. This technology can help social media platforms better understand how people are interacting with their sites as well as provide a more personalized experience.

The Top 5 Benefits of Facial Recognition

Facial recognition technology offers many benefits for both businesses and consumers. From increasing security to boosting convenience, this technology is transforming industries. The most notable benefits of facial recognition technology are:

1) Increased security:

While many biometric methods offer enhanced security, facial recognition stands out due to its non-intrusive nature and the ability to operate at a distance. Unlike fingerprints or iris scans, which require close proximity, facial recognition can identify individuals from afar, making it ideal for crowd monitoring and real-time threat detection. Additionally, with the integration of AI, facial recognition systems can now detect anomalies or unfamiliar patterns, offering proactive security measures. This makes it especially valuable for real-time threat detection in public spaces or events. Its ability to quickly scan and cross-reference databases allows for instant identification of potential security threats, making it a preferred choice for modern surveillance systems.

AI-driven facial recognition CCTV surveillance systems, for instance, can be a powerful security measure to businesses. They provide 24/7 monitoring of premises, allow real-time detection of any potential threats and discourage criminal activity from occurring day or night.

Furthermore, when combined with other authentication methods, facial recognition can add an extra layer of security to both online and physical transactions.

2) Advanced touchless experiences:

The touchless/contactless nature of facial recognition is its most distinguishing feature. In a world where hygiene and swift interactions are paramount, the ability to authenticate or grant access without any physical contact is invaluable. This is especially crucial in high-traffic areas like airports or public transport stations where speed and efficiency are essential.

In a world that values speed and efficiency, facial recognition stands out for its truly touchless nature. Whether it's accessing a building, verifying identity for a transaction, or boarding a flight, the process is seamless. Users don't need to stop, touch any device, or take any specific action – they just need to be present.

3) Personalized customer experience:

While other biometrics can identify individuals, facial recognition can go a step further by analyzing facial expressions and emotions. This allows businesses to gauge customer reactions in real-time, offering personalized services or promotions based on the customer's mood or engagement level. For instance, in a retail setting, recognizing a customer's interest or dissatisfaction through their expressions can prompt immediate staff assistance or special offers.

4) Operational efficiency:

Facial recognition's ability to quickly process and identify individuals in large crowds sets it apart. In events or large workplaces, the system can swiftly check and verify individuals, streamlining entry processes. Its integration with AI also allows for the automation of tasks like sentiment analysis during feedback sessions or optimizing customer interactions based on recognized preferences.

5) Increased convenience:

Last but not least, facial recognition adds a great deal of convenience to both businesses and customers. One of the remarkable achievements of facial recognition technology is its adaptability, especially evident in its capability to recognize individuals even when they wear masks. This advancement, spurred by global events, underscores the system's resilience and adaptability. Unlike other biometrics that might require specific positioning or conditions, facial recognition offers seamless integration into various scenarios. Whether it's quick access at a security checkpoint, instant personalization in a retail setting, or swift authentication for online services, the technology minimizes wait times and enhances user experience. Furthermore, while facial features might evolve due to factors like style changes or temporary accessories, facial recognition systems are continuously improving to ensure reliable and consistent convenience.

These are the top 5 benefits that facial recognition technology has to offer businesses and consumers alike. Organizations across industries can leverage this technology to provide a more secure and personalized customer experience while streamlining administrative tasks.

Facial Recognition Technology: The Bottom Line

To conclude, facial recognition technology has revolutionized the world of business in unprecedented ways. Now more than ever, companies are taking advantage of its benefits such as heightened security features, contactless authentication capabilities, streamlined processes for greater efficiency, and personalization options that cater to customers' convenience needs. With these advantages, it's no wonder why its usage is becoming more widespread every day!

One of the most important considerations when it comes to facial recognition is data privacy. While this technology can be used for a variety of beneficial applications, it's essential to ensure that the data collected is protected from any potential misuse. For this reason, it's important for businesses to implement stringent security measures such as encryption, secure data storage, and consistent monitoring of the system. By taking these precautions, organizations are ensuring that the technology is being used responsibly and ethically.

The bottom line? Utilizing facial recognition technology has many advantages, but its use must be monitored to ensure that data privacy is safeguarded. Do you think that your business can benefit from this technology? If so, it's time to start exploring what facial recognition has to offer!


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What is Biometrics? Definition, Data Types, Trends (2024)

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