Intel launches RealSense ID, facial recognition tech that uses the company’s depth-sensing cameras

Intel launched RealSense ID yesterday, a facial recognition solution that relies on its RealSense depth-sensing technology (via Gizmodo). RealSense started as a Kinect-style camera for touch-free interaction, but RealSense ID seems like Intel’s attempt to reposition its camera business towards secure, on-device facial recognition first, while also potentially putting the company in the crossfire of controversy.

RealSense ID builds on Intel’s depth-sensing technology with a neural network for identifying faces, a dedicated system-on-a-chip, and a secure element that encrypts and processes user data. The device should learn and adapt to a face over time, working around facial hair, a variety of different skin tones, and face masks, Gizmodo writes. The tech is available on a module that can be integrated into other products or as a standalone peripheral that can be plugged into a computer.

Intel’s RealSense ID. Image: Intel

Intel’s RealSense tech has been knocking around for several years, popping up in odd, tech demo use cases like inserting your face into Fallout 4, and more useful ones like unlocking a laptop with Windows Hello. Intel suggests this new application of RealSense could be used in a variety of settings, like ATMs, registers, and smart locks. What the company doesn’t mention is the other popular use of facial recognition: governments and law enforcement agencies tracking and profiling people.

Just in the last year, facial recognition software created by Huawei was used to track the persecuted Uighur minority in China. And in the US this past summer, facial recognition tech was used by the New York City Police Department to track a Black Lives Matter activist accused of assault. Intel says it processes facial recognition on-device, but it’s not clear how that would work to give you access to a bank’s ATMs or at cash registers. Beyond the potential for abuse, facial recognition software has been found to be biased for both race and gender, opening up the possibility for false positives. For example, a version of Amazon’s facial recognition software Rekognition, had a harder time identifying people if they were female or dark-skinned than if they were white men.

Reduced racial bias, perhaps?

Intel has taken steps to address the potential for bias in RealSense ID by building out a more diverse sample of faces to train RealSense on. “We’ve done extensive data collection of all ethnicities from Asia, Europe, Middle East Africa,” Intel told VentureBeat at a press briefing for the new device. Intel says RealSense ID has one-in-a-million chance of falsely identifying someone, but we’ll have to wait and see if outside researchers find flaws.

Facial recognition isn’t the only future Intel imagines for RealSense. For this year’s digital CES, the company announced RealSense Touchless Control Software (TCS), which uses Intel’s RealSense Depth Camera to allow you to interact with a touchscreen by hovering your finger over it, rather than touching it. Like facial recognition, the new application makes a lot of sense for a world still dealing with a pandemic, and shows there’s still some room for RealSense’s motion controller past.

Intel’s RealSense ID peripheral is available for pre-order now for $99, and the RealSense ID Module is available in a pack of 10 for $750. Intel plans to start shipping both in March.

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