App turns you and your pals into pirates, ninjas

Pirate Ninja uses Apple's face detection technology to put pirate hats and ninja masks on group photos.

Just testing the Pirate Ninja app out on a flight from Flagstaff, Ariz., to San Francisco. Boonsri Dickinson/CNET

Now that Apple's opened up facial recognition as a public developer API for iOS 5, one of the first apps to result is a photo-sharing app that overlays pirate hats and ninja masks on pics.

Pirate Ninja uses an algorithm to recognize your eyes and the way your head is tilting in the photo, so the pirate hat and ninja mask can be properly placed. A pirate hat's got to sit just right, you know.

I gave the 99-cent app a shot, snapping a photo with a friend while I was on a plane and uploading the photo to Pirate Ninja. As expected, the app gave us pirate hats, but the app isn't perfect. In some cases, it didn't recognize my friend's face or placed an extra pirate hat on his chest. In all cases, it measured my face just fine.

When I shared the picture privately via e-mail, the automatically generated subject line read: "ARRR!" Cute, but probably not something I'd post all over Facebook or Twitter.

"Turning people into pirates and ninjas is an amusing novelty, but this technology also has deeper implications," said Chia Hwu, CEO of Qubop, the firm that made the Pirate Ninja app. "Faces can now be detected in iOS apps not just in photos, but in moving video."

The facial recognition system in the iOS 5 update has been anticipated ever since Apple purchased face recognition system firm Polar Rose last year.

Pirate Ninja is an early adopter of the facial-recognition technology on iOS 5, though more app makers will likely tap into Apple's API. "This allows new mobile applications in areas like augmented reality, gaming, and surveillance," Hwu said. "You could imagine a video chat app that automatically zooms in and follows your face, or an app that helps you find your friends in a crowd."

In case you want to dress up for Halloween without much effort, Pirate Ninja may be out just in time for the holiday.

 

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