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Masks no obstacle for new NEC facial recognition system

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NEC facial recognition system
A camera and a monitor for a facial recognition system that identifies people even when they are wearing masks, is pictured as NEC's Shinya Takashima demonstrates the system, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at its headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, January 6, 2021. Picture taken on January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) – NEC Corp. of Japan has introduced a system of facial recognition that recognises individuals even when they wear masks, adjusting to a new standard where facial coverings have become a key form of defence against coronavirus spread.

When the COVID-19 pandemic prompted it to accelerate growth, the technology firm had already been working on a device to meet the needs of allergy sufferers who wear masks – a common practise in Japan.

“Needs grew even more due to the coronavirus situation as the state of emergency (last year) was continuing for a long time, and so we’ve now introduced this technology to the market,” Shinya Takashima, assistant manager of the digital platform division of NEC, told Reuters.

To verify the identity of the subject, the device decides when a person wears a mask and hones in on the parts that are not covered up. For example, the eyes and surrounding areas. Users capture in advance a snapshot of their face.

NEC says it takes less than one second to check and claims a more than 99.9 percent accuracy rate.

NEC Tokyo Headquarters

NEC Tokyo Headquarters

The people can use the system at security gates in office buildings and other facilities. NEC is also trialling the technology for automated payments at an unmanned convenience store in its Tokyo headquarters.

NEC declined to disclose the system’s price. For its biometrics and video analysis market, which involves its facial technology systems. And it is targeting 100 billion yen ($970 million) in revenue in fiscal 2021.

In October, the new system went on sale and Lufthansa and Swiss International Airlines are clients, Takashima said.

Facial recognition ensures that a safety card that can be lost or stolen is not needed and also helps prevent the spread of germs from touching surfaces, Takashima said.

“Touchless verification has become extremely important due to the impact of the coronavirus,” he said. “Going forward we hope to contribute to safety and peace of mind by strengthening (efforts) in that area.”

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