Detecting emotions: USF lab pushes limits of facial recognition

- In a world where eyes are scanned, fingers are printed, and movements are monitored, the technology called facial recognition has exploded. What most people don't realize is facial recognition is an old technology, it's been around for years, and what's happening now is mind-blowing.

At University of South Florida's Department of Engineering, Dr. Rangachar Kasturi and his team of Ph.D's and grad students are taking facial recognition technology to a new level.

"What we are doing here is well beyond recognizing who they are but what they're trying to express," Kasturi told us.

And how are they doing this? Using advanced algorithms, the sounds people make are analyzed and paired with computer vision technology to identify your innermost feelings.  "We can determine if they are a happy face or if they are sad, or if they're trying to say something, if they are angry," Dr. Kasturi explained.

But this is more than just an exercise in the lab. Research conducted by USF Health at Tampa General Hospital puts this technology to the test.

We met Dr. Terri Ashmeade, a neonatologist at TGH, who explained how the partnership worked. "By combining facial recognition technology with vocal technology, with the vital sign measurements that we take here as part of routine in the neonatal intensive care unit, we can combine all of those methods to develop a pain score."

As a result, nurses would know when patients are in distress when they're not able to be in the room to observe. Nurses would also know why they're in distress -- for instance, are they hungry? Do they need their diapers changed? Or do they just need to be comforted?

Dr. Ashmeade admits, working with the team at USF is an eye opener. "Almost everything about working with the engineers has surprised me. Their ability to integrate technologies and think in a really innovative way about how we can assess pain in newborns has been very exciting for me."

And for the USF team? More bold new technology is in the works, such as gait recognition, the ability to identify a person just by the way they walk.  They're even exploring ear biometrics, which uses the human ear to identify people.

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