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Teamwork Makes the Dream Work (Part 2)

Continued from PART I:

I was reluctant, but took on the challenge once the baton of leadership was passed on to me

Akihiro Hayasaka
Principal Researcher, Biometrics Research Laboratories, NEC

Mr. Hayasaka has also been a member of Mr. Imaoka’s team for more than ten years, and is in charge of facial feature extraction, which is the step following face detection. This is what makes it possible to determine whether the person in an image is the same person or someone else.

“I researched fingerprint recognition back when I was a student, and participated in NIST benchmark tests. I was initially reluctant to do so because the work involved was so demanding.

Participating in benchmark tests at NEC also proved to be tough. There was even a time when we collected face data for 3,000 people over a period of two months. I feel a great sense of accomplishment having contributed to NEC being ranked number one in the world through the improvement of face matching.

On hindsight, it is strange to recall how hesitant I was at first. After receiving this award, I would like to work towards a new goal with pride.”

Starting in 2021, Mr. Imaoka took a step back from being the direct development leader for the benchmark test, entrusting Mr. Hayasaka with the position of leader and Mr. Morishita with the position of subleader.

While Mr. Hayasaka felt apprehensive at first and wondered if he was really the right person for the job, the team led by himself and Mr. Morishita once again claimed the top spot in the world in 2021. According to Mr. Morishita, “With strong members like Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Takahashi, I believed that we would do just fine as long as we did what needed to be done.”

Even a researcher like me who is not necessarily well balanced can demonstrate his abilities

Hiroshi Hashimoto
Senior Research Architect, Biometrics Research Laboratories, NEC

One of the younger team members in which Mr. Hayasaka and Mr. Morishita placed their trust is Mr. Hashimoto, who joined NEC in 2016. In the area of facial feature extraction, deep learning was utilized to achieve the highest accuracy in the world.

“When I first joined the team, there were around 10 members. I was truly grateful that they gave a young member like myself a chance.

Deep learning began garnering attention in the 2010s. Experiencing the evolution of deep learning both in and outside the company in real time enabled us to incorporate a variety of technologies in a complex manner.”

Mr. Imaoka gives his stamp of approval, telling us that Mr. Hashimoto became a force to be reckoned with starting with the 2018 benchmark test.

“While my specialties are deep learning, mathematics, and programming, I am not a well-balanced researcher. Nevertheless, the older members of our team have already built a strong foundation, and there are individuals I can rely on in each area. This has enabled me to demonstrate my abilities despite not being a well-balanced researcher. I believe this is something that is unique to NEC,” says Mr. Hashimoto.

Not only do I find my job interesting, but the fact that others can use it brings me joy

Koichi Takahashi
Manager, Biometrics Research Laboratories, NEC

In face recognition, feature point detection, which analyzes the positioning of feature points (i.e., distinctive features) such as eyes, nose, and mouth, as well as the size of the facial area, is another important step in face recognition. Mr. Takahashi is active in this area.

Mr. Takahashi has been researching feature point detection since he was a student, and was actually scouted by Mr. Imaoka. After entering graduate school and completing an internship, he joined NEC in 2015.

Mr. Morishita, who is Mr. Takahashi’s senior, was also in charge of feature point detection at one point. However, he decided to leave this area to Mr. Takahashi because he believed his approach was better.

Mr. Takahashi has demonstrated his abilities in face orientation, one of NEC’s strengths, and in recognition from difficult angles, such as from the side. He has also greatly contributed to improving video recognition performance.

“Interest plays a great part in what I was creating, even back when I was a student. Now, however, I find it more interesting to create things that can be used by various people. Part of what I enjoy about working at NEC is being able to contribute to the world.”

Masked face recognition

NEC has rapidly demonstrated the capabilities of its face recognition technology even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Since masks hide nearly two-thirds of the face, they can interfere with recognition carried out using conventional technology. However, with the spread of infection that has occurred since 2020, improving the accuracy of face recognition with masks has become an urgent task around the world.
We embarked on this endeavor in May 2020, completed our research and development in about two months, and launched sales of the product in October. In our internal evaluations, NEC’s masked face recognition rate has shown an accuracy of more than 99.9%.

Instead of making yearly plans for commercialization, we deployed this product at a furious speed to meet society’s needs. The timing of this was incredibly fast even from a global perspective.

Mr. Imaoka reflects on the experience, saying, “It was thanks to teamwork and the strenuous efforts put forth by our members that we were able to accomplish this with such speed.”

He then continued, emphatically stating, “When I first heard we had won the award, many faces came to mind. Not only fellow members and everyone else on the team but also the divisions, affiliated companies, and country affiliates that supported us. I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all of them.”

“Our goal is to create a safe, secure, and convenient environment in countries around the globe, and to contribute to people’s everyday lives.”

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(June 27, 2022)