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Your Face Is Becoming Your Key To The Future

Thanks to the development of new technology, your face may soon be the key to the future. The U-FACE project, funded with the help of a grant of 700,000 from the Information Society Technology (IST) Programme of the European Union's Framework Programme, has applied and extended existing facial biometrics technology.

Many of us pride ourselves on never forgetting a face - and rightly so, because recognising and remembering the subtle distinctions that make everyone look uniquely different is a complex task. Now, thanks to the development of new technology, your face may soon be the key to the future. The U-FACE project, funded with the help of a grant of 700,000 from the Information Society Technology (IST) Programme of the European Unions Framework Programme, has applied and extended existing facial biometrics technology. The system works through a Web cam that scans the face of the person requesting access. The sophisticated software checks the image to see if it tallies with one of the stored 'biometrics templates' of authorised faces. If the face is not 'recognised' by the system, access is denied. As a failsafe, each user must also give a password and has to swipe with a smartcard that contains the digitised data defining his or her face. Explaining the advances made by U-FACE Tim Cootes, Senior Lecturer with The University of Manchester - the leading UK partner in the project, says: Physical access to restricted information and services relies upon the dependable authentication of an individual and their rights by the use of a Physical token (what-you-have authentication) or password/PIN (what-you-know authentication). However the disadvantages of the traditional solutions, with multiple passwords to remember and cards too easy to lose or transfer, are becoming intolerable. An emerging solution to the problem of secure non-transferrable authentication is in the use of biometrics (who-you are authentication). Of all these techniques, one of the most appealing is that of controlling access using the human face to identify an individual. Faces have been a natural means of identifying an individual for centuries, making it one of the most culturally acceptable. So, it is natural to use for even the most naive and occasional user. On the other hand, digital cameras are becoming increasingly popular and provide a low cost means of obtaining the necessary image data. Until comparatively recently even the most sophisticated electronic systems performed rather poorly. U-FACE has made great strides towards developing an electronic recognition system to control access to restricted information or premises. Peter Walters, UK National Contact Point for IST within the EU's Sixth Framework Programme, is delighted to see EU funding being used in this way, saying: There is currently a global debate on how to make the best use of technology for a range of security issues. It is vital that we make the best use of the research and development grants available to ensure that both UK and European companies are at the forefront of technology development and able to make a major contribution in helping provide solutions to some the security problems we all face. The Framework Programmes are the EU's main vehicle for support of leading edge, internationally collaborative R&D. The current Framework Programme (FP6) runs until 2006 and organisations wanting free information on how to access some of the 17.5bn available should log on to or call central telephone support on 0870 600 6080. Developed by partners from the UK, Italy and Greece, the U-FACE system has been tried out in two contexts. The first was with a medical practice in Greece, where it was used to allow patients to gain access to a secure website to arrange appointments with their doctor. The second trial was with a publishing company in Italy, where the system was used to enable only authorised personnel to enter the company's offices. The results of U-FACE are extremely promising, but Tim Cootes says further work is still needed: "No facial recognition system works perfectly yet. A lot depends on the quality of the image, and there are still problems with things like make-up, hairstyles, beards and moustaches, spectacles and contact lenses. U-FACE, in common with other systems, has an error rate varying between 5 to 20 per cent, depending on the quality of the face images. The system can be tuned to make access easier (increasing the chance an imposter will be allowed in) or more difficult (increasing the chance a legitimate user will be kept out). In the biometrics field, no one system is secure enough to use on its own except perhaps iris recognition. But combine two or three measures together, and you have a really powerful way of accurately identifying people. Key to the project has been the development of unique statistical models of facial appearance that define the ways faces change from one person to another - shape, colour, texture and so on. The system has been trained and refined on hundreds of people to collect a wide range of such variations. The system is capable of representing and encoding anyones face, and can synthesise an almost infinite number of different faces." The technology for face modelling developed by U-FACE and related projects at the University of Manchester has led directly to the formation of a commercial spin off. A new company, Genemation Ltd ( has been set up in Manchester with venture capital funding of some £300, 000 to exploit the facial generation software. The company has produced the GenHead tool, capable of creating and animating faces for the computer games industry. Currently the industry invests a large amount of time and effort creating realistic faces for use in games. Much of the work is still hand done by artists and results are not always very satisfactory. Genemations GenHead tool makes virtual face generation not only quicker and far easier, but also more convincing. Other commercial applications of U-FACE being explored are its use in the financial services industry, the healthcare industry, where secure access to records is paramount, and also in the context of e-learning, where it could be used for authenticating candidates taking online examinations. In the UK, government funding has been granted to continue the work on using the system for gaining access to secure premises, in tandem with a car number plate recognition system.The EU's Framework Programmes are the worlds largest, publicly funded, research and technological development programmes. The Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) covers the period 2002-2006 and is the European Unions main instrument for the funding of collaborative research and innovation. It is open to public and private entities of all sizes in the EU and a number of non-EU countries. It has an overall budget of 17.5 billion. Most of the budget for FP6 is devoted to work in seven priority thematic areas:,? Life sciences, Genetics and Biotechnology for Health;,? Information Society Technologies;,? Nanotechnologies and Nanosciences, Knowledgebased Multifunctional Materials and New Production Processes and Devices;,? Aeronautics and Space;,? Food Quality and Safety;,? Sustainable Development, Global Change and Ecosystems; and,? Citizens and Governance in a Knowledge-based Society. There is also a focus on the research activities of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) across all seven thematic areas. The services of FP6UK are funded by the Office of Science & Technology (OST) / Department of Trade & Industry (DTI). More information can be found on IST Programme ,The IST Priority Thematic Area (PTA) of the 6th Framework Programme(FP6) is the largest of the seven PTAs with a budget of 3.6bn over the lifetime of FP6. The first Call for proposals with a budget of 1070m - closed in April 2003. The second Call closed on 15 October 2003 and had a budget of 525m. The 3rd Call for proposals will be announced in early June 2004 along with a Joint Call with the Priority 3 area -Nanotechnologies, Materials and Production technologies.


Greece, Italy, United Kingdom