Coronavirus: China turns to facial recognition tech that identifies people even with masks

  • Amid the Coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese government has started using facial recognition software to identify people wearing masks

  • Different from face-printed masks, the software figures out facial recognition with masks on

The Coronavirus outbreak that first appeared in China has now spread worldwide with more than 83,000 people infected and more than 2,800 deaths as of Friday. China has been using facial recognition technology to identify the infected in a bid to prevent further spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus.

However, with citizens often donning masks to protect themselves, the facial recognition technology failed to identify them, as pointed out by Quartz. Acknowledging this issue, the government has turned to upgraded technology to evolve its systems that help recognize faces even with masks on. However, it's different from fooling the system with face-printed masks.

SenseTime's upgraded facial recognition tech

The Chinese company SenseTime, billed as "the most valuable AI start-up in the world," is one of the companies that can resolve this problem. The company has managed to improve its facial recognition software to ensure an individual can be identified without them taking off their mask.

SenseTime's facial recognition technology

Not only masks, SenseTime's facial recognition software allows individuals with other facial obstructions such as beards, scarves, etc also to be identified. Instead of relying on having to visualise the person's face, the system is able to learn a person's identify just from their eyes and the upper nose region of their face.

Earlier this month, the company announced that it was incorporating new features to evolve its system to combat the use of masks amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

The company's facial recognition system also uses a mask algorithm to detect those who are not wearing masks in public places. This feature is already being used by Chinese authorities to keep a check on people disobeying strict instructions that require all individuals to wear masks to curb the spread of the disease.

Infra-red cameras to detect body temperatures

The coronavirus epidemic has also inspired facial recognition companies to integrate their tech with thermal imaging. This allows the government to identify individuals with high temperatures, which might indicate whether they've been infected with the coronavirus and help verify their identity.

SenseTime facial recognition technology,

SenseTime is selling thermal imaging-enabled facial recognition, and so is Sunell, another China-based video surveillance company, according to a press release.

However, someone has come up with a clever solution earlier to this problem: Printing your face on the masks so you unlock your phone while you wear them.

Face-printed masks

Danielle Baskin, a San Francisco-based artist, has started a website,, that sells N95 respirator masks with your face printed on them so you can unlock your smartphone without having to take the masks off. Baskin claims that these masks can "work with facial recognition software." As Android devices use 2D face unlock, these masks can trick with a photo but Apple phones use 3D face unlock.

However, the experts online have suggested a way around it too. Just add a secondary face to your iPhone wearing the customized N95 masks and fool the system into believing that's what your face looks like that always.

Related topics : Coronavirus