Apple invention uses 'faceprints' to identify people, objects

in General Discussion edited January 2014
In a patent filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday, Apple outlined a system that analyzes the characteristics of an image's subject and uses the data to create a "faceprint," which can then be matched with other photos to determine a person's identity.

Curiously, most of the patent language in Apple's application for "Auto-recognition for noteworthy objects" focuses on "famous people and/or iconic images," and not a user's friends or family.

The invention calls for a digital image management application to analyze a subject in a given photo, creating a "faceprint" of the person by using facial recognition to identify certain unique characteristics. Here the filing notes that a faceprint is "a subset of feature vectors that may be used for object recognition," and can therefore be used for non-facial objects like structures.

After a photo is analyzed, the management application compares the faceprint with other generated faceprints stored locally or remotely. If a match is discovered, the software tags the person with an identity, such as Tom Hanks. This stage relies on face recognition technology that assigns a reliability score to the faceprint, thus allowing for more accurate matches.

As for the database, the patent allows for a device like the iPhone to create and store faceprints locally or pull from an off-site cache. This remotely-generated faceprint store has the ability to operate in the cloud, and can be sent to or shipped with the device. Images can be pre-processed and tagged with metadata for quicker facial recognition, but the step is not necessary for the system to function.

Additional features include the ability to group together multiple faceprints using metadata along with reliability scores. The patent gives the example of pictures of Paul McCartney taken over a number of decades. While his face looks markedly different than it did forty years ago, vetted metadata assigned to a pool of images can help parse out photos of the legendary artist to give a decade-by-decade retrospective.

Going further, the metadata can be used to offer information about a subject like their Facebook page, Twitter feed or an iTunes Store link to their music.

While the exact purpose of the invention is unclear, the solution could extend beyond famous people and places and be used to intelligently identify subjects in a user's photo library for quick and easy tagging or file management.
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