USPTO awards Google patent for face recognition unlock feature

March 13, 2013 - 

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has granted Google a patent for its facial recognition unlock feature, already being used on many Android devices running newer versions of the mobile operating system.

Reported in Patent Bolt, Google originally introduced its face unlock feature with the Galaxy Nexus and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

I’ve used this feature on my Android smartphone and tablet and though it is a convenient way to unlock your phone, and will be something I monitor closely in the future, I don’t believe the system is perfect yet. Lighting plays an important role in a successful unlock, though that isn’t altogether unexpected or unreasonable. Second, I have found that normal changes in my appearance like beard growth, eye glasses and even a bad hair day have seemed to prevent a successful unlock.

With the update to Jelly Bean, and following reports that the feature was easily spoofed with a photograph, Google introduced a “liveness check,” requiring the user to blink before unlocking. Google also allows users to “improve face matching” by taking picture in various conditions.

That being said, when enabling the face unlock option, the operating system tells you to keep a few things in mind, including “Face Unlock is less secure than a pattern, PIN or password,” and also that “someone who looks similar to you could unlock your phone.”

The company is also currently developing its widely anticipated “Google Glass” or “Project Glass” wearable computer product that sits on a user’s face like a pair of eye glasses.

Reported by Thomas Claburn in InformationWeek, “Google recently awarded a research grant to support ongoing work on a project called InSight that enables individuals to be identified by their visual fingerprint, calculated through assessments of clothing colors, body structure and motion patterns.”

According to the report, the company awarded the grant after researchers submitted a proposal that focused on how the technology could enhance Project Glass. As Claburn suggests, this could be a feasible integration as “Google may be wary of adding a facial recognition system to Project Glass […] due to privacy implications.”

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About Adam Vrankulj

Adam Vrankulj is an editor for His background consists of online news writing, editing and content marketing. Adam has written for, BlogTO and was the editor and curator for the nextMEDIA and CIX Source publications. He has a degree in journalism and is passionate about science, technology and social innovation. Contact Adam, or follow him at @adamvrankulj