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Mobile phones get facial recognition

Software that lets cell phones, PDAs recognize their owners will be demonstrated at a security show in Japan this week.

Mobile phones could soon be equipped with facial recognition technology, if some biometric sensor software launched by Japanese company Omron this week is commercially successful.

Omron's Okao Vision Face Recognition Sensor software allows PDAs (personal digital assistants), mobile phones or other handheld devices to use a built-in camera to recognize the face of their owner. Checking the authenticity of a person in this way could bring greater security to a device, the company said.

"Mobile devices are carrying ever more personal information including address books, schedules and payment information," said Masato Kawade, senior manager of the Sensing Technology Laboratory in Kyoto, Japan. "As a result, the sensor (software) has been designed to protect this information even when the mobile phone is lost or stolen."

Many have argued that facial recognition systems too often grant access to those who should not have it. But Omron said in a statement that its software gives the correct result more than 99 percent of the time.

Omron said the software is compatible with the Symbian, BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless), embedded Linux and Itron operating systems. Photos take about a second to register and take up to 450KB of memory.

The Okoa Vision Face Recognition Sensor will be on display at the Security Show 2005 in Tokyo later this week.

Dan Ilett of ZDNet UK reported from London.