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Stirling shares in £6 million award developing next generation face recognition technology

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Professor Peter Hancock
Professor Peter Hancock

Psychologists from the University of Stirling will play a central role in a £6 million study to develop next generation face recognition technology.

This five-year project will bring university research teams from across the UK together with the Home Office and industry specialists to consider its potential in enhancing global security.

Scientists from Stirling’s acclaimed Face Research Lab will provide expertise on face perception to improve systems such as automated passport controls, which identify digital images of a person by comparing facial features against a database. Light, visibility and movement all currently impact upon the system’s efficiency.

Drivers for the new technology include the growing mobility of people, reliance on digital technology for commerce and e-government and providing enhanced global security and safety.

The University of Stirling’s eminent psychologist Professor Peter Hancock helped to develop facial recognition system EvoFIT, which is now used by police forces around the world to catch criminals.

He will lead the Stirling team as they investigate the psychology behind how humans recognise familiar faces.

Professor Hancock said: “Humans are surprisingly poor at identifying faces they don’t know, even professionals such as passport controllers have difficulty matching people to their photographs. But we are much better than machines at recognising familiar faces and the challenge we are undertaking is to gain an understanding of what the process is that allows us to do this.

“One of the failed London bombers in 2005 was recognised by his parents from a poor quality CCTV image and that’s the end result that we want to achieve: to teach a machine to be as effective as we are at recognising known individuals.”

Increased reliance on digital technology for business and government brings with it questions around privacy.

The project – which will look at the full potential of face recognition technology – includes a detailed period of public engagement to consider concerns of privacy. Professor Hancock added: “Global security is the prime driver behind improving this technology, but there are also many commercial benefits.

“In the future it could be your bank will recognise you automatically at the cash machine and remove the need for pin numbers. The BBC are also interested in how it might make accessing their vast archive more efficient.

“In all of this though, we know privacy concerns are high and we want to create a technology which balances the issues of security with the need for privacy of the individual.”

Psychology research at the University of Stirling is rated as having 100% world leading impact according to the latest Research Excellence Framework.

The project starts in January and is a collaboration between researchers at Stirling, the University of Surrey; Imperial College London; international experts in face biometrics and video analysis; the Home Office; the BBC and industry specialists including IBM.

It is funded by The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).


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Background information

As a leading UK research-intensive university, the University of Stirling is committed to carrying out research which has a positive impact on communities across the globe – addressing real issues, providing solutions and helping to shape society.

Interdisciplinary in its approach, Stirling’s research informs its teaching curriculum and facilitates opportunities for knowledge exchange and collaboration between staff, students, industry partners and the wider community.

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