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Coronavirus

NEC facial recognition system offers 99.9% accuracy with mask on

Upgraded technology extracts features around eyes for better authentication

A security gate at NEC headquarters in Tokyo: The company's new face authentication system recognizes masked faces with accuracy of more than 99.9%. (Photo by Niki Mizuguchi)

TOKYO -- NEC said Thursday it has developed technology that can almost completely recognize people's faces even when they are wearing masks.

The new method extracts features around the eyes and recognizes faces with accuracy of more than 99.9%, the Japanese electronics group said. NEC plans to begin offering the technology in early October and says it works with various types of masks.

NEC already has a facial authentication system workable when people wear masks. But the newly developed technology is designed specifically for recognition of masked faces for increased accuracy and practicality.

The upgraded system first recognizes whether a person is wearing a mask and opts for the new technology when a mask is detected. It is thus workable regardless of the type of mask worn but also in the absence of one.

Starting at the end of September, NEC will install the new system at security gates in its head office building in Tokyo's Minato Ward. It will be combined with a thermal camera to check body temperatures as part of infection prevention measures.

NEC will subsequently put the set on the market as the COVID-19 pandemic has increased interest in non-contact anti-coronavirus measures and spurred demand for face masks.

The company's facial authentication systems are already used in airports and large commercial facilities in Japan and abroad. NEC expects the new technology to spark more demand for them.

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