Google once again made waves yesterday as they bucked convention and decided to release more info about the Pixel 4 prior to the official launch of the device in the coming months. While this move feels a bit odd in the current climate of attempted secrecy by manufacturers and leaks left and right by the media, I love what Google is doing with this info. Cutting right through the noise and hype of leak culture gives potential users the exciting teases they desire and undercuts the steam-stealing nature of unsanctioned device leaks.
In this latest video, the Pixel 4 is shown off (yeah, you can see the front of the device officially for the first time) doing 2 new things for a Pixel phone: unlocking with just a face and responding to gestures in the air above the screen. While we’d love to report finding proof of this gesture ability, there’s simply no proof so far that Projet Soli (the internal name for the tech powering this new gesture-based navigation) is in the works on any Chromebook at this time.
What we do have solid proof of, however, is the massive inertia behind face unlock getting tested and primed for users on Chrome OS. While we only currently have a single device on the market with a fingerprint scanner in the Pixel Slate (many more are coming), it seems the Chrome OS team is moving forward with a face unlock feature that could work alongside fingerprint scanners as an additional means of biometric identification for multiple Chromebooks.
Check out this commit and the language in it:
FROMLIST: dts: arm64: mt8183: Add FD nodes
This patch adds nodes for Face Detection (FD) unit. FD is embedded in Mediatek SoCs and works with the co-processor to perform face detection on the input data and image and output detected face result.
This is one of many commits where we are seeing face detection being worked on in the Chromium Repositories. For now, it seems the bulk of the work is being done for the MediaTek 8183 chip we’re tracking for devices like ‘Flapjack’, ‘Kukui’, ‘Jacuzzi’ and ‘Krane’. For a reminder, these devices are built using a newer version of the MediaTek chip on offer in devices like the Lenovo S330 and Acer Chromebook R13. We expect them to be detachables and tablets and for many of the features being worked on for these boards to show up in other ARM devices like those we expect from Qualcomm by year’s end.
As for the Intel-based devices like ‘Atlas’, we’ve long suspected something like this was in the works. There are other commits about adding Intel’s Photography Vision Library, but check out the language in this commit from all the way back in January:
chipset-kbl: add ebuild for Intel Photography Vision Library
The Intel Photography Vision Library provides the face detection function used by the camera HAL.
Also consolidate the licenses for the following packages to BSD-Intel+patent-grant:
– intel-pvl-libs-bin packages
While ‘Atlas’ isn’t the only Chromebook on that list, I would almost guarantee it will be the torch-bearer for this new feature. But why has this been in place for so long on Intel-based devices, you may ask? In short, Intel generally provides support for new functions in the chipset and operating systems (like Windows, MacOS or Chrome OS) choose which things to keep and which to skip. ARM chips (like Qualcomm and MediaTek) are way more flexible, but you need to explicitly tell them what to do and how to do it. This is why we’re seeing all the commits for ARM chips and facial recognition while the Intel-based devices basically have this already in place once the Chrome OS team decides to actually activate it.
Regardless of the processors, it is very clear that facial recognition on Chrome OS is aggressively being worked on and we’d fully expect to see this roll out at the fall event when the Pixel 4 and ‘Atlas’ (or Pixelbook 2) are finally and officially unveiled to the world. With the camera sensors currently on Chromebooks, I’m not fully sure how secure this facial unlock will be and may serve as an additional login once your full Google Account password has been entered upon boot, similar to the way PINs work right now.
I could be wrong and Google’s photo tech could be farther along with all of this, but I’m inclined to think not. With the Pixel 4 having all those sensors for facial recognition to be supremely secure, I can’t see Google deciding that face unlock on Chrome OS is fully-secure with just a camera. One way or another, we’ll know soon.