HP Computer Technology On Motion-Tracking Web Cams Do Not Recognize Wide Range Of Skin Tones

December 23, 2009 7:27 a.m. EST
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Topics: Offbeat, Science and Technology, Science and Technology

Hansen Sinclair - AHN Reporter
West Palm Beach, FL, United States (AHN) - In a video now posted on YouTube, two co-workers ask the question: Can Hewlett-Packard's motion-tracking webcams see black people? The company is investigating the issue.

In the video, two co-workers go back and forth in front of the camera to test the facial recognition feature. The camera followed Wanda Zamen, a white female and she sways from side to side, but the camera stands still for Desi Cryer, a black male, as he moves in front of the camera.

HP said in a statement that the cameras may have problems with contrast recognition in some lighting situations. The webcams are designed to keep a person's face and body centered on the screen as the move.

The video has gotten more than 400,000 hits on YouTube and numerous comments on both the site and Twitter.

Neither Zamen nor Cryer expected to get so much attention from the video. They said they were just playing around with the technology at work when they noticed they glitch.

Both said they thought it was funny the camera followed her and not him, so they made the video and posted it on Facebook and YouTube for friends to watch. The video was strictly improvised.

In the video, Cryer states jokingly: "As soon as my blackness enters the frame, it stopped. Black Desi gets in there, no face recognition anymore, buddy. I think my blackness is interfering with the computer's ability to follow me."

The duo wants everyone, including HP, to know that they did not mean for the video to stir up discussion or controversy about whether the webcam was "racist."

Zamen said she liked her computer so much that she convinced Cryer to get one for his wife ? and he did.

Both said they did not intentionally go after HP and that the computer just happened to be that brand with the software glitch. They said they did it for laughs, but if it causes the computer company to improve their product then that would make them happy.

HP responded to the video.

The company posted a reaction on their blog TheNextBench.com.

In an excerpt from the blog, the company states:

The technology we use is built on standard algorithms that measure lighting differences between facial features. We believe that the camera might have difficulty recognizing contrast in conditions where there is low foreground lighting.

The blog also pointed users to HP's help page to remedy the issue.

Cryer and Zamen reportedly said they have had responses on YouTube suggesting how they can fix the issue and adjust the settings on the webcam.

Because of the video, others have bought the computer to try it out for themselves.

According to consumer reports and test results, in standard lighting, the webcam did not follow African-Americans, but when more light was added the camera had no problem picking up African-American features and movement.

Editor's note: The headline on this story has been revised because the original headline was not specific enough.