Face login experiments

Quite a lot of notebooks have integrated cameras these days. The cameras are good for video conferencing and taking photos, and if accompanied by appropriate software, also for face login.

Quite a lot of notebooks have integrated cameras these days. The cameras are good for video conferencing and taking photos, and if accompanied by appropriate software, also for face login.

There is a face login system on the Toshiba Tecra R10 I’ve just reviewed. The review will appear shortly. In the mean time, here’s my take on face login. Anyone who has thought of trying this but has not yet done so might find it interesting.

I wanted to find out three things – how easy the system was to use, how well it coped with my glasses and whether I could trick it.

A little more detail on that middle point. I am a glasses wearer and have a variety of pairs of specs some with thick rims, some with thin. I very rarely wear contact lenses. I wanted to find out if the system worked regardless of glasses wearing. I decided to register my face as a wearer of thick-framed glasses and test it with thinner frames and no glasses at all.

The first time I tried to register my face it failed. I was sitting with a window behind me, bright sunlight streaming through it and onto the notebook’s screen. Consequently the contrast between me and the background was not that good. I assume this is why the software gave up.

For the second attempt I chose a position that had less backlight flooding into the camera lens. Success.

The registration process involves gentle nodding and shaking of the head at the computer. You follow the visual cues of a cartoon-like head underneath which your own face is visible, lining its eyes, nose and mouth up with your own as you copy its vertical and horizontal movements. The process takes less than a minute. There is the option of having a practice session before the real thing so you can get an idea of what is expected in the nodding and shaking department.

After successful registration and having restarted the computer a new option appears on the login screen called ‘start face recognition’. Confusingly this was in addition to a separate login for the user I’d created specially to test the system. This bypasses face recognition, requiring just the usual password.

Choosing ‘start face recognition’ pops up a new screen that instructs ‘please turn you face to the camera’ while showing a single image of what the camera sees centre screen and a whole row of images of what it has seen recently running along the bottom of the screen.

If the software likes your face you are logged in very quickly and with no need to type a password.

It all worked splendidly when I wore the glasses in which I’d done the initial registration so I tried it with and without various other pairs of glasses. It succeeded every time. I tried covering my mouth with my hand. It failed. Covering my eyes. It failed. Using a photograph of myself. It failed. Quite possibly, by logical extension, if I’d had a pair of dark glasses on, it would have failed.

I also tried logging in with the light streaming in from that window which had caused the failed recognition earlier on. It failed. It also failed outdoors in bright sunshine. So in situations like those it is back to the good old typed password.

I’d have been surprised if I had been able to fool the system with a photograph. But I was disappointed that it can’t cope when the sun is out.

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