Orangutans in search of Biometrics
18 May 2011 14:42 GMT

Biometrics far from perfect on orangutans

Biometrics and orangutans are not two words you would commonly, if ever, find in the same sentence. But that could be about to change if one emminent environmentalist - Willie Smits - is successful in his mission to use facial recognition technology to track these endangered apes.

Smits has dedicated his life to the survival of this species ever since he encountered, and saved, a baby orangutan abandoned on a rubbish heap whilst working in Indonesia. That was a turning point in his career.

For over twenty years, Smits has worked tirelessly to help fight the threats against survival of this species, during which time his work has also broadened out into the related areas of generating sustainable farming, reforestation and remote monitoring of forests. He became a senior advisor to the Ministry of Forests in Indonesia and has been knighted in his native Netherlands.

In a recent blog, Smits describes how he has received strong support from Logica in Rotterdam in his biometric mission. He says that the company has so far helped him test four facial recognition engines.

But can facial recognition software possibly work as well on apes as it does for humans? Sadly no - at least not yet. So far the software has only been able to correctly recognise 3-5 apes out of 761.

Smits says that the main problem is that the eyes of orangutans do not have a white, and consequently the contrast needed by the software to identify the location of the eyes is unavailable. Orangutans have almost all brown eyes.

But why is Smits interested in biometrics at all? He explains: "I have always hoped to find a way to recognize orangutans after their release. Since most of the orangutans that we release are still rather young, they tend to look very different a few years after their release in the wild. Their facial color is much darker, some males will have developed cheek pads, their hair will be much longer and just as with humans some expression representing their individual character becomes like engraved in their faces."

"I also want to use it in the Orangudome in Yogyakarta, so we can monitor which orangutan is where and can arrange their habitat in such a way that conflicts are avoided through a system of hydraulics that can either connect or disconnect different parts of the seven intermingled 3D worlds that will make up the inner space of the Orangudome. That would mean it would have to work in real time…"

Logica's team and Smits are not giving up. They are now investigating alternative ways of using the facial recognition software.

Smits said: "I suggested to Logica that they start with looking at the lighter part of the head and the rounded form of the skull in combination with the better lighted part of the protruding mouth and based upon those two contrast rich regions let the software look for the correct position of the eyes. Then to look at the angle between the eyes and the nostrils, which I found to be very consistent and different between orangutans." 




































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