A key Tokyo2020 legacy, How the World's Best Biometric Verification Tech Will Change Our Lives

NEC biometrics authentication technology, considered the best in the world and instrumental in the operation of Tokyo 2020, has been on the receiving end of much media attention.
The NEC face recognition system utilized in the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. Photo: Courtesy of NEC

The Behind-the-Scenes Legacy of the Tokyo 2020 Games

Biometrics authentication technology utilizes physical characteristics such as a person's face or fingerprints, or behavioral characteristics such as their voice or gait, to verify identity. About 300 of the NEC Corporation (Tokyo; hereafter NEC) devices were installed at the entrances of all 43 venues at the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. Athletes, staff members, volunteers, and media personnel alike used the device's face verification system to enter the venues. This meant an immense number of people were using the system—400,000 for the Olympic Games and 300,000 for the Paralympic Games.

Indeed, this was the first time in the history of the Olympic and Paralympic Games that a face verification system had been implemented in their operation. It goes without saying, then, that this technology—a behind-the-scenes contributor to the safety and security of the Games—is a Tokyo 2020 legacy.

Another NEC system, which verifies people's identities by analyzing their face and irises, was installed at hotels used by Games-related personnel. This system uses a cutting-edge technology called "multimodal biometrics authentication" that combines multiple biometrics authentication systems into one. It is much more accurate than systems that use only a single element to verify identity, and as such, is already seeing implementation across a variety of fields.

Capable of Verifying Each of the World's Soon-to-Be Eight Billion People

A machine that was used to register irises. Since irises stop changing and remain constant after the age of two, they are considered very effective for use in biometrics authentication.

NEC's research into biometrics authentication began all the way back in 1971, with fingerprint verification. This research branched out into face recognition, iris verification, and then finally into this current technology, which combines multiple biometrics authentication technologies into one. Takashima Shinya of the NEC Biometrics Authentication & Video Analysis Management Division says:

"By combining three elements—the shape of the face, the right iris, and the left iris—we've been able to achieve an incredibly high level of accuracy, with a false acceptance rate of under 1 in 10 billion. The world population is expected to increase to about 8 billion by the end of 2022, and the system would be accurate even then."

The accuracy of NEC biometrics authentication technologies has been recognized throughout the world. NEC came in first place in the face recognition benchmark test run by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—a U.S. government institution—when they participated for the first time in 2009, as well as in their most recent benchmark test in 2022. They have also topped the rankings when it comes to the accuracy of their fingerprint verification system, iris verification system, and more.

The major factor that has given NEC such a huge leg up over their competition is the power of their algorithm. They have spent about 50 years researching biometrics authentication and have continually improved upon their technologies using the know-how and immense amount of data they have accumulated over these years. Take their face recognition system, for instance. People's faces are not static—they have facial expressions; there may be changes to a person's face due to aging, or their face may look different due to lighting. However, the NEC system is able to look beyond these differences to accurately detect each individual's face, analyze its characteristics, and compare it against the faces in its database. The detection and comparison in this system is simply unparalleled.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a sharp rise in demand for biometrics authentication technologies that can verify people's identities even when a portion of their face is covered—for instance, with a mask. The NEC face recognition system is able to verify the identity of mask-wearing people with an accuracy of 99.9%. Verification tests are currently underway for the use of this system for managing entry and exit into company buildings, and for detecting mask-less people at sports events.

"Face Payments" as a Reprieve from Password Overload

Members of the NEC Biometrics Authentication & Video Analysis Management Division. From left to right: Takashima Shinya, Kikuchi Masaya, and Tomomizu Asumi.

NEC biometrics authentication technologies are currently seeing rapid implementation both within Japan and overseas. Some examples include their use in the boarding process for airports that utilize face recognition, and for verifying people's identities at banks. This technology is also in use in the national ID systems for countries like India and Vietnam, which combine face, fingerprint, and iris biometric verification.

Another technology that has received considerable media attention is that used in "face payments"—payments made through face verification. In this system, face data is linked to people's credit cards and bank accounts, letting them shop completely empty-handed. Verification tests are already underway on buses and in hotels in Japan. Kikuchi Masaya, also of the NEC Biometrics Authentication & Video Analysis Management Division, explains:

"It eliminates all the steps you'd normally have to go through to make a payment—getting your rewards card out of your wallet, then your credit card, entering your password . . . You can collect points and pay just by showing the machine your face. Nowadays, you have to keep track of so many passwords. Biometrics authentication would let you access all of your accounts in the same way."

Different biometrics authentication technologies—such as those that utilize the voice, palm prints, otoacoustic emissions, and finger veins—can be used at different work sites, Kikuchi says, to improve safety, enhance the convenience and fairness of services, and more. The technology is also expected to be used in marketing, for instance in the tourism and service sectors. Whatever the scenario, NEC biometrics atuthentication technologies are sure to help preserve people's safety and make various processes more convenient in the course of our daily lives.

Interview, writing and photos by Ichinose Shin
Translation by Amitt