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Summary:

Apple has been awarded a patent for facial recognition technology that could allow you to unlock your computer or phone and activate certain functions.

Apple facial recognition patent
photo: USPTO

Apple on Tuesday was awarded a patent for “Personal computing device control using face detection and recognition,” as noted by Apple Insider. That might sound a lot like Android’s face unlock feature, but in addition to unlocking your device with your face, Apple’s technology could also allow you to control it.

The patent describes three separate processes that work together to allow you to control a phone, tablet, or computer. First, your face must be located through the camera via a face detection app. From there, it must be paired to an image of your actual face using facial recognition. After that, an input/output control application will enable your device to activate certain functions.

So in addition to simply unlocking your device, the technology could provide enhanced security benefits. For example, when you get a call, it can sense that you’re looking at your phone and display information like caller ID and anything relevant in your contacts app. But if someone else is looking at your phone it can simply remain blank. The same can be done with an email notifications – displaying part of the message when you’re looking at the device, but blocking it otherwise.

Another example cited explains the technology can be used to detect when you’re in front of your computer and learn your behavior. This could prevent your screensaver from turning on, or adapt audio and video settings accordingly.

Apple recently acquired PrimeSense, which made the 3D sensors that power Microsoft’s Kinect controller. It is unclear if similar sensors will play a role in the new technology, although this patent originated long before the PrimeSense deal. Either way, it sounds like this could be a good way for Apple to differentiate itself from the competition, though I’m curious to see what will become of Touch ID if facial recognition takes off.

  1. It should be noted that the claims, which define what the patent protects, are a little bit different from what you describe. The process involves receiving a communication (not a user interaction), capturing an image, when it is determined that the captured image has a face a first action is taken, when it is determined that the captured image does not have a face a second action is taken.

    At its broadest, there is no requirement that it be your face. Also, it only covers systems that do this solely in response to receiving a communication. If the screen stays off until you hit a button, Apple may not have protection.

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