Facial detection technology is now pretty common in digital cameras, but has also found its way into things like taps, door locks, televisions and even ice cream machines. Recently, researchers from the University of Manchester developed software that allows mobile phones to detect faces too. Unlike some devices that simply identify faces, however, phones equipped with this software will be able to continuously track faces in real time.

Camera-equipped phones using the software identify and track 22 facial features, and do so at a high speed. Not only can the technology follow subjects that are moving, but it can also do so while the phone itself is moving, even if it’s spun around laterally 360 degrees.

“Existing mobile face trackers give only an approximate position and scale of the face,” said lead researcher Dr. Phil Tresadern. “Our model runs in real-time and accurately tracks a number of landmarks on and around the face such as the eyes, nose, mouth and jaw line... this can make face recognition more accurate, and has great potential for novel ways of interacting with your phone.”

The team is now looking into uses for the technology, although they already see it replacing passwords and PINs for logging onto websites by phone. On a more fun note, they also envision it being used in apps that could apply objects to live video images of peoples’ faces – ever wonder what you’d look like with a mustache?

The software is the result of over 20 years of research at Manchester, and is part of the EU-funded Mobile Biometrics (MoBio) project.