China uses ‘gait recog­ni­tion’ to iden­tify peo­ple

The Korea Times - - SCIENCE/TECHNOLOGY -

BEI­JING (AP) — Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties have be­gun de­ploy­ing a new sur­veil­lance tool: “gait recog­ni­tion” soft­ware that uses peo­ple’s body shapes and how they walk to iden­tify them, even when their faces are hid­den from cam­eras.

Al­ready used by po­lice on the streets of Bei­jing and Shang­hai, “gait recog­ni­tion” is part of a push across China to de­velop ar­ti­fi­cial-in­tel­li­gence and data-driven sur­veil­lance that is rais­ing con­cern about how far the tech­nol­ogy will go.

Huang Yongzhen, the CEO of Wa­trix, said that its sys­tem can iden­tify peo­ple from up to 50 me­ters (165 feet) away, even with their back turned or face cov­ered. This can fill a gap in fa­cial recog­ni­tion, which needs close-up, high-res­o­lu­tion images of a per­son’s face to work.

“You don’t need peo­ple’s co­op­er­a­tion for us to be able to rec­og­nize their iden­tity,” Huang said in an in­ter­view in his Bei­jing of­fice. “Gait anal­y­sis can’t be fooled by sim­ply limp­ing, walk­ing with splayed feet or hunch­ing over, be­cause we’re an­a­lyz­ing all the fea­tures of an en­tire body.”

Wa­trix an­nounced last month that it had raised 100 mil­lion yuan ($14.5 mil­lion) to ac­cel­er­ate the devel­op­ment and sale of its gait recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy, ac­cord­ing to Chi­nese me­dia re­ports.

Chi­nese po­lice are us­ing fa­cial recog­ni­tion to iden­tify peo­ple in crowds and nab jay­walk­ers, and are de­vel­op­ing an in­te­grated na­tional sys­tem of sur­veil­lance cam­era data. Not ev­ery­one is com­fort­able with gait recog­ni­tion’s use.

Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials in China’s far-west­ern prov­ince of Xin­jiang, a re­gion whose Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion is al­ready sub­ject to in­tense sur­veil­lance and con­trol, have ex­pressed in­ter­est in the soft­ware.

Shi Shusi, a Chi­nese colum­nist and com­men­ta­tor, says it’s un­sur­pris­ing that the tech­nol­ogy is catch­ing on in China faster than the rest of the world be­cause of Bei­jing’s em­pha­sis on so­cial con­trol.

“Us­ing bio­met­ric recog­ni­tion to main­tain so­cial sta­bil­ity and man­age so­ci­ety is an un­stop­pable trend,” he said. “It’s great busi­ness.”

The tech­nol­ogy isn’t new. Sci­en­tists in Ja­pan, the United King­dom and the U.S. De­fense In­for­ma­tion Sys- tems Agency have been re­search­ing gait recog­ni­tion for over a decade, try­ing dif­fer­ent ways to over­come skep­ti­cism that peo­ple could be rec­og­nized by the way they walk. Pro­fes­sors from Osaka Univer­sity have worked with Ja­pan’s Na­tional Po­lice Agency to use gait recog­ni­tion soft­ware on a pi­lot ba­sis since 2013.

But few have tried to com­mer­cial­ize gait recog­ni­tion. Is­rael-based FST Bio­met­rics shut down ear­lier this year amid com­pany in­fight­ing af­ter en­coun­ter­ing tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties with its prod­ucts, ac­cord­ing to for­mer ad­vi­sory board mem­ber Gabriel Tal.

“It’s more com­plex than other bio­met­rics, com­pu­ta­tion­ally,” said Mark Nixon, a lead­ing ex­pert on gait recog­ni­tion at the Univer­sity of Southamp­ton in Bri­tain. “It takes big­ger com­put­ers to do gait be­cause you need a se­quence of images rather than a sin­gle image.”

Wa­trix’s soft­ware ex­tracts a per­son’s sil­hou­ette from video and an­a­lyzes the sil­hou­ette’s move­ment to cre­ate a model of the way the per­son walks. It isn’t ca­pa­ble of iden­ti­fy­ing peo­ple in real-time yet. Users must up­load video into the pro­gram, which takes about 10 min­utes to search through an hour of video. It doesn’t re­quire spe­cial cam­eras — the soft­ware can use footage from sur­veil­lance cam­eras to an­a­lyze gait.

Huang, a for­mer re­searcher, said he left academia to co-found Wa­trix in 2016 af­ter see­ing how promis­ing the tech­nol­ogy had be­come. The com­pany was in­cu­bated by the Chi­nese Academy of Sciences. Though the soft­ware isn’t as good as fa­cial recog­ni­tion, Huang said its 94 per­cent ac­cu­racy rate is good enough for com­mer­cial use.

He en­vi­sions gait recog­ni­tion be­ing used along­side face-scan­ning soft­ware.

Be­yond sur­veil­lance, Huang says gait recog­ni­tion can also be used to spot peo­ple in dis­tress such as el­derly in­di­vid­u­als who have fallen down. Nixon be­lieves that the tech­nol­ogy can make life safer and more con­ve­nient.

“Peo­ple still don’t rec­og­nize they can be rec­og­nized by their gait, whereas every­body knows you can be rec­og­nized by your face,” Nixon said. “We be­lieve you are to­tally unique in the way you walk.”


Huang Yongzhen, CEO of Wa­trix, checks his smart­phone as em­ploy­ees demon­strate the use of their firm's gait recog­ni­tion soft­ware at his com­pany’s of­fices in Bei­jing, Oct. 31.

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