China’s facial recognition tech gaining ground

By Chen Qingqing Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/29 21:48:39

Huge demand, abundance of data driving rapid expansion: experts

A customer makes a payment using facial recognition technology at the first intelligent self-service store launched by appliance retail chain Suning in Nanjing, capital of East China's Jiangsu Province on Monday. Photo: IC

Facial recognition technology is now widely used in different sectors in China and the country has developed an edge in the industry, partly thanks to government support.

If local residents in Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei Province, forget to bring their identity cards to process passport applications, officials can process their applications by scanning their faces, the Wuhan Morning Post reported on Tuesday.

Another application scenario is in a sports store in Nanjing, capital of East China's Jiangsu Province, where consumers can pay by "face swapping" without taking out their wallets, according to the Xinhua News Agency. The store was opened by Chinese retailer Suning Commerce Group on Monday.

Facial recognition technology is also used at a railway station in Wuhan, where 16 machines were set up at the checkpoints on Monday. It takes less than two seconds to pass through them, according to the financial news site

Facial recognition technology has been developing rapidly in China since 2015, as demand for the application has driven more investment in the sector, Zhou Xi, president of Chongqing-based visual recognition firm CloudWalk, told the Global Times on Monday. Like Zhou, many Chinese entrepreneurs with an academic background and working experience overseas have returned to China to develop facial recognition technology.

"I used to work at Microsoft's speech recognition group, and some people who recognized the potential of China's artificial intelligence (AI) sector have come back to the country in recent years, which is a boon for the industry," Zhou said.

The facial recognition market scale is expected to reach $6.84 billion by 2021, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.3 percent, according to a report released by the global market consultancy MarketsandMarkets in November 2016.

The market is expected to be given further impetus from huge governmental investments in security and surveillance infrastructure, as well as increased public awareness, the report noted.

In China, the market scale for facial recognition technology surpassed 1 billion yuan ($152 million) in 2016, and the CAGR will reach 25 percent, pushing the market to a scale of 5.1 billion yuan by 2021, according to a report published by Beijing-based market research firm Qianzhan.

The rapid growth in China has also attracted Yin Qi, another Chinese entrepreneur with working experience in the US, to come back home to start a facial recognition company. Yin, co-founder of Megvii Technology Inc, also known as Face++, has come up with different facial recognition solutions not only for consumer products but also for local authorities.

Big data advantage

Although Western companies and research institutions started working on facial recognition technology earlier, when Chinese players tapped into the market, they were more innovative and came up with more application solutions ranging from security to finance, Zhang Zhuo, an industry expert with IDC, told the Global Times in an earlier interview.

For instance, during the 2017 South-Southeast Asia Commodity Expo and Investment Fair held in Kunming, capital of Southwest China's Yunnan Province from June 12 to 18, by using Hikvision face detection technology developed by Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co, the police were able to use a database of 973,661 images to detain five criminal suspects, according to a document the company sent to the Global Times on Monday.

Compared to the development of the technology in Western countries, research and development teams in China can tap into a more abundant database, Zhou noted.

"In the AI sector, the abundance of data and the depth of AI research are equally important," he said, noting that big data helps to improve both the accuracy and speed of recognition technology. 

Foreign rivals

Besides Microsoft, other tech giants including Google and Facebook are also pushing forward with their facial recognition apps.

For instance, Google's cloud vision application programming interface provides a comprehensive set of capabilities including object detection and face detection. "Developers have to test apps based on hundreds of millions of images. Google has a database of more than 1 billion images, which gives it an advantage in the sector," Zhou explained.

The expert noted that though China still lags behind the US in AI technology, the country has surpassed the US in facial recognition.

"Considering the large market demand, our company set up an R&D team with over 200 people," he said.


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