Facial recognition and drones: a perfect combination?

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Drones and facial recognition; two nascent technologies whose paths have been made to cross through innovation and necessity. Both technologies have enjoyed a fair amount of coverage in the recent past, and for a good reason.

While drones are being used for elaborate light shows, facial technology is being used to find lost persons in public places. These two innovations are being paired in a match that, for all intents and purpose, seems to be heaven-made.

Matchmaking aside, recent developments in AI-driven facial recognition has made it possible to analyze facial footage and stills at a monumental scale. It is with these developments that we see drones equipped with hi-tech facial recognition cameras or imaging devices in use today.

Privacy concerns regarding mobile facial recognition

While governments and innovators find ways to increase surveillance, there is growing concern from all quarters about the privacy violations the technology brings. Indeed, facial recognition debates and discussions have been dominating tech headlines. By taking it further through mobile surveillance in the form of drones, there is bound to be resistance and outcry from civil rights groups and other opponents.

What is the state of mobile facial recognition, and who is using it?

Drones equipped with facial recognition devices are already being used in many ways. Here are some examples:

Finding missing and vulnerable populations

Not everyone fancies a drone that can pick their face from afar, but this particular application is saving lives and helping law enforcers do their work. Drones equipped with facial recognition devices are being used to search and spot lost or vulnerable persons. A Practical example of this application is one used by the police in Scotland as reported by the BBC late last year.

These search and spot drones consist of three main components, namely, a manned drone, high-power optical cameras, and a module connected to an AI-powered neural network. All that is needed is for the police to fly the drone over an area, and it will automatically detect human faces even in places where there is a dense population.

There are many companies out there making similar drones for law enforcement agencies and the general public. Examples include FlyBycopters, Freely systems, FiedHawk, DJI, among others. Drone enthusiasts who want their search and rescue drones should look for the following features:

  • Thermal imaging sensors
  • Survey and mapping features
  • GPS
  • Long battery life
  • Weather resistance
  • Facial detection and recognition
  • Automatic flight controller

Cheap running costs, portability, and versatility are some of the unique selling points for search and rescue drones. Compared to other means, such as helicopter or search parties, these drones are game-changers.

Military operations

Drones are being used as remote surveillance and offence tools in militaries across the world with the likes of Turkey, USA, China, and Russia leading the pack. Equipped with advanced cameras, these military drones can spot an enemy target from miles away and even identify individual targets using facial recognition.

An example of a military drone in operation today is the Turkish 30 KARGU Autonomous tactical multi-rotor attack UAV. This military drone is equipped with an advanced biometric facial recognition system used to identify targets from afar. The 30 KARGU has been used extensively in the Syrian and Libyan war with mixed success.

The use of drones equipped with facial recognition technology in the military has attracted a fair amount of controversy and criticism in the recent past. Concerns about the lack of regulations and ethical boundaries have been raised, prompting some countries to scale back deployments or introduce new regulations. Some opponents have gone as far as terming them as “slaughter bots.”

The bottom line

From these examples, it’s clear that pairing drones with facial recognition have their upsides and downsides. While the use of drones for search and rescue operations is laudable, the same cannot be said about using them to identify “targets” in battle, especially knowing the shortcomings that current facial recognition systems have when it comes to accuracy.

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