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A new Apple patent application could hint at a biometric facial recognition system debuting on this year’s 10th anniversary iPhone.
The patent application in question, published Thursday by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, describes a method of “locking and unlock a mobile device using facial recognition.” Specifically, the patent calls for using an iPhone’s front-facing camera to detect and recognize a face, and a system that unlocks the device if that face belongs to the authorized owner of the iPhone.
The patent describes several embodiments of this method. In one, the iPhone can detect if it has been motionless for an interval of time and if the camera cannot see a face within its view, and automatically lock. In another embodiment, the iPhone could detect if it starts moving after a period of being motionless — in this method, if the camera picks up the authorized user’s face, the iPhone will be automatically unlocked without the need to input a PIN or authorize via Touch ID, the patent states.
The patent also hints at an infrared sensor being an integral piece of the unlocking process. Namely, combined with the device’s tilt sensor, the sensor could determine variations in infrared light to help the iPhone detect movement. As far as user assistance in facial recognition, Claim 32 of the patent suggests that a locked iPhone could display a live camera feed, with a highlighted area in which the user’s face must appear for it to perform its biometric recognition.
Notably, today’s application is a continuation of a patent of the same name that was granted to Apple in 2016, which in turn was a continuation for a patent granted in 2015. The latest patent application is an incremental update that streamlines some of the methods and embodiments and makes subtle changes to the idea as a whole — additional usage of an infrared sensor among them.
This patent just serves as further evidence that a future iPhone — largely expected to be this year’s 10th anniversary flagship — could have advanced biometric facial recognition software. Earlier this month, Apple was granted a similar patent for enhancing such a system using depth information — a technology that the company acquired when it bought Israel-based motion capture firm PrimeSense in 2015.