Face mask recognition has arrived to see who is complying and who isn't

An American-based tech company has introduced new software to let authorities detect who is and who isn’t wearing a facial covering.

Software company—LeewayHertz— which is based in San Francisco California say they have introduced the software after being ‘shocked at what was happening in China’ regarding the vicious spread of the coronavirus.

And if successful, the authorities in different nations will likely introduce the tech onto the general public to control measures further.

LeewayHertz CEO Akash Taykar said he ‘recognized how important it is to wear a mask to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.’

Mr Taykar said he ‘wanted to develop a computer program that could look at images and detect whether people are wearing masks.’

In America, 34 states and the District of Columbia have mask mandates for public spaces, both outdoors and indoors.

However, rules and regulations differ per each individual state and there are no set federal regulations in place.

Mr Taykar believes there is a market to bring his software in to detect people in crowds and either public or private spaces to see who is wearing a mask and who isn’t.

‘For businesses that have workers returning to indoor facilities, noncompliance could lead to others in the workplace getting infected. Ultimately, it could be a great loss for a business if there was an outbreak because someone was asymptomatic and failed to wear a mask,’ says Takyar.

His software is trained on two sets of images: one to teach the algorithm how to recognize a face (“face detection”) and a second to figure out how to recognize a mask on a face (“mask recognition”).

LeewayHertz’s algorithm, for example, could be used in real time and integrated with closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras.

Alan Descoins, the chief technology officer of Tryolabs, a company based in Montevideo, Uruguay, that’s also developed mask recognition software, said:  “If we can compute the number [of people who are complying with the mask mandates], people can make policies and monitor on whether or not they need to do another campaign to push mask usage.”

“Or if people start getting bored about COVID, and start not wearing masks, then there might need to be more publicity to make people aware.”

However, some officials feel this should be banned and rules are being ‘too relaxed due to Covid.’

Just this week, Portland, Oregon has passed a law that would ban public and private use of facial recognition, becoming the first city where using the technology is illegal.

But Oregon also has a state-wide mask mandate, and Hector Dominguez, the Smart City Open Data Coordinator for Portland, sees mask recognition as different from facial recognition with regards to its privacy risks.

“We’re in the middle of a crisis. We need to start creating more awareness around privacy” with regards to how data gets used or shared in general, he says.

Even though Portland’s facial recognition ban wouldn’t affect the use of mask recognition systems, Dominguez is wary that mask recognition systems would in fact capture more: “Masks are not going to stop facial recognition,” he says.

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