Facial Expressions Could Be Google's New Password Plan
June 7, 2013

Facial Expressions Could Be Google’s New Password Plan

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Google has filed a patent application for a new facial recognition technology that lets users unlock the screens of their Android phones and tablets with facial expressions.

The patent was filed last June, but has only now been published. The document suggests users might simply stick out their tongue, or wrinkle their nose, in place of typing in a password to unlock their devices.

Requiring specific gestures could also prevent the existing ℠Face Unlock´ facility from being tricked by photos and other images.

The patent suggests the software could track a "facial landmark" to confirm a user not only looks like the device's owner, but also performs the proper action. This might include a frown, open-mouth smile, tongue protrusion, forehead wrinkle, eyebrow movement or some other facial expression, Google said in its filing.

The check would work by comparing two images obtained from a captured video stream of the user's face to determine if the difference between them demonstrated the proper gesture had been made.

The patent also describes various ways the software might verify that the device was being presented with a real person's face, rather than tampered images. These checks include studying other frames from the captured video stream to ensure the user had made a sequence of movements to achieve the proper gesture, and confirming all of the frames actually showed the person's face.

The software could also detect any changes in the angle of the person's face to ensure the device was not being presented with a still image with a fake gesture layered on top.

Last year, Google introduced a "liveness check” that required users to blink at their device to prevent its facial recognition program being deceived by a photograph. But security researchers from the University of British Columbia posted a video shortly thereafter demonstrating that the feature could still be tricked.

The researchers showed that an image of one of their members could be copied from Facebook and then altered with graphics editing software so that his eyes were painted over with colors matching his skin tone. Fake eyelashes were drawn in to make it appear the man had his eyes shut. When this screen was held up to the targeted Android device, and then switched back-and-forth between the original and altered images, the researchers showed that Android was fooled into believing it was looking at the subject blinking.

According to the current patent, additional checks will prevent this deception from working by requiring a combination of specific gestures issued randomly to make it more difficult to deceive the ID feature.

But Google acknowledged this may still fall short, saying it may be possible for a device to be programmed to generate a video showing the user making the requested facial expressions.

To address this, the company says the device could also "emit light beams having different colors or frequencies, that are expected to induce in the eyes of a user a reflection of light having a corresponding frequency content."

By doing so, the software could utilize the device's screen and flash to project different colored light into the user's face. It could then check for related glints in the user´s eyes as he or she performed the requested facial movements.

In the future, a "3D-rangefinder" incorporated into a phone or tablet might also use lasers to examine the contours of the person's face, providing an additional security check.

A Google spokesman said the company did not discuss individual patents, but noted that it had submitted a number of ideas generated by employees.

"Some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some don't," he told BBC News. "Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patent applications."

Last week, Apple Insider reported that Apple had filed for a patent application for a “gaze detection” eye-tracking technology that allows iOS devices to alternate between active and dimmed based on whether the user is looking directly at the device. The technology is similar to the “Smart Scroll” feature found in Samsung´s Galaxy S4.

Separately, Google has been awarded a patent that could allow Google Glass users to unlock their screen using eye-tracking. Currently, a side swipe across a touchpad unlocks the device. In the patent filing, Google describes how a moving object could appear on a projected screen and unlock the “wearable device” when eyes align with the movement. Google could also potentially apply the eye-tracking technology to smartphones, tablet devices and computers.