One day in the not-too-distant future, you’ll be able to unlock your phone safely and reliably through facial recognition — not through a two-dimensional image capture, mind you, but with a camera that can sense three-dimensional depth. We know Apple is working on the feature, as is LG. And this week at Mobile World Congress Shanghai, Sony will reportedly demo the tech running on an Xperia phone in real time.
Considering there’s not a smartphone out there currently that supports three-dimensional facial recognition, and just a handful of Project Tango-enabled Asus and Lenovo products that can measure depth, it might seem like a great deal of buzz has been made over nothing. But there are a variety of far-reaching applications for depth-aware cameras besides authentication.
Augmented reality is perhaps the most obvious one, affecting everything from gaming to shopping. There have also been depth-sensing stand-alone cameras in the past, like Lytro’s products, that enable refocusing after the shot.
Sony’s test, however, will be centered around authentication. The company’s SoftKinetic subsidiary, responsible for building imaging components, has partnered with Swiss firm KeyLemon, based on a report from TechCrunch. The result of their cooperation will be shown at the Shanghai trade show, though there is no indication that the feature will launch in an upcoming Xperia phone just yet.
Much of the news surrounding 3D front-facing cameras has concerned Apple, which has been rumored to implement the functionality in the next flagship iPhone, expected to be released this fall. The company snapped up PrimeSense back in 2013, a developer of depth-tracking technology which previously worked on Microsoft’s Kinect sensor for Xbox. Since then, we’ve heard the phone may sport iris scanning capabilities as well, thanks to a report from one of Apple’s suppliers, Largan Precision.
Ironically, some have speculated Apple is precisely the reason why Sony phones in the United States have historically lacked a different form of biometric authentication: Fingerprint scanning. The iPhone maker received a patent for embedding the sensor inside the power button back in 2015, as Phandroid reported earlier this month. Although it has never used that solution in any of its devices, Sony has taken exactly that approach with many of its phones produced over the past several years, and may have had to disable it in the U.S. to avoid infringement.
If Apple isn’t the one responsible, it could be the carriers, as Sony has cited “business reasons” in the past while referring to the strange omission for stateside customers. Either way, if 3D facial recognition is truly the next wave of smartphone security, it’s probably best for Sony to start riding it as soon as possible.