Kodak Files Patent to Use Red-eye for Age-Detection

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*April 27, 2006 – *Red-eye in digital images has always been something to avoid, but researchers at Kodak have recently found a use for it: determining subjects’ ages. The company was recently granted a patent for technology that would determine the age of subjects by the size of the red-eye defects—as people age, their pupils don’t expand as much, leading to less red-eye—and the distance between the two eyes.

Kodak experimented by photographing 88 faces and attempting to automatically sort the pictures into two categories: children and adults. 62 of the 88 faces were correctly classified. Children were more likely to be misfiled than adults. Kodak’s patent builds on this research to include more categories: baby, child, adult, and older adult, with wrinkle and hair color analysis supplementing the red-eye detection technology.

This initial research happened years ago. The patent was filed Sept. 1, 2004 and granted only this year, on March 2. From the patent’s language, Kodak seems to have big plans for the age-classification technology. It could sort pictures by age class within a digital camera, a software program, or a photofinishing system.

Integrating age classification into a digital camera, or a future update of the EasyShare software, would take Kodak’s recently announced face recognition technology to a new level. Not only could an EasyShare recognize a face, it could determine its age and file the photo into a folder with other faces in the same age class. The software could automatically organize pictures into albums of babies, children, adults, and older adults, making them much simpler to find later.

Kodak’s photo printing services could even use this technology for marketing purposes, determining the age of printed subjects and using it to target specific consumer groups.

For example, if the software detected photographs of babies, the system would insert a diaper advertisement with the printed photos. As the patent states, "This increases the effectiveness of the money spent on advertising."

While Kodak’s new patent is highly interesting and could advance the digital camera market, it does have significant downsides.. Collected information could be used to invade customer privacy. While it would be fantastic to sort pictures by age, receiving an advertisement for hair loss treatment with a print order wouldn’t be so flattering.

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