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The technology that might become the future of facial recognition started with a bucket of household paint.

Ingmar Bruder was researching organic photovoltaics—and how to make paint that could absorb sunlight and turn it into electricity—at German chemical giant BASF, when he hit upon an unexpected discovery. When he pointed infrared beams at various objects, they would reflect the beam back in different ways, depending on what they were made of. And in analyzing that backscatter, and combining it with a more commonplace 2D infrared image and a 3D depth map, software could more accurately identify what an object was. It could tell the difference between a photograph of a person’s face printed on paper, a person wearing a realistic mask, the face of a recently deceased person, and the holy grail of biometric facial recognition technology: a living person, based on his or her skin.



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In 2015, Bruder launched Trinamix, a wholly owned subsidiary of BASF, to develop the technology. For the past five years, the company has focused on infrared detectors, near-infrared spectroscopy, 3D imaging, and distance measurement, with more than 400 global patents pending in 75 patent families and 107 patents granted. On Wednesday, Trinamix announced a partnership with Qualcomm’s Software Accelerator Program to promote Trinamix’s technology to Android phone manufacturers.

Along with addressing a persistent issue with facial recognition—that it can be too easily fooled—Trinamix’s technology has the potential to give makers of Android phones a competitive advantage.

“Apple did a great job with facial recognition” in developing its Face ID log-in for iPhones, Bruder says. But with the exception of Huawei, which like Apple has created a facial-recognition system that uses 2D and 3D cameras to improve accuracy, Android hardware hasn’t supported robust facial-recognition biometrics.

“What we have invented is a fundamentally new approach to secure user authentication, based on our material detection. It’s an unprecedented ability to sense live skin,” Bruder says.

This story was originally commissioned by Fast Company. Read the full story here