Just as humans can be identified by their fingerprints, every dog has a unique nose print as well. For years kennel clubs have been staining snouts (with food colouring, rather than ink) and pressing them onto paper as records of identity. But Chinese facial recognition company Megvii now has a better solution: an app that registers the dog’s identity with a few quick shots from a smartphone camera.
Megvii claims its technology allows for a profile with an accuracy rate of 95% after users take photos of their dog’s nose from multiple angles. The process is also much easier to implement than DNA tests and microchip implants. The system stores the key features of the nose print and sends an extracted pattern to a database where artificial intelligence software runs quick verifications of registered animals.
Most of the focus for the pet recognition providers is on reuniting lost animals with their owners. Finding Rover, a popular app in the United States, says that it has helped with the return of more than 15,000 animals, largely from dog shelters that check the identities of new arrivals against database records.
Other companies are finding different ways of making a return on facial recognition for animals – Lufax, an online finance platform backed by heavyweight insurer Ping An, has introduced health insurance plans for pets in which the snouts are scanned to enrol for cover or file a claim. Yet most of the dog recognition apps rely on advertisements for revenues, sending targeted messages for foods and toys, vet treatments and other services based on the breed, age and gender of the canines.
It helps that the Chinese pet market is growing fast: Goumin.com, an online forum for pet owners, has calculated that cat and dog lovers spent more than Rmb5,000 ($740) per animal last year, with pet-related revenues reaching about Rmb170 billion, an increase of more than a quarter on the year before.
Then there is the data mining on pet behaviour that can be sold to third parties – although in reality the focus is as much on the owners as their animals. WiC can imagine how location tracking might be employed to lure dog walkers for a pit stop at a nearby bar or restaurant, for instance. But in another approach that may not appeal quite as much to the owners, Megvii is suggesting that its technology can also be used to detect what it terms as “uncivilised dog keeping”.
Loaded into city surveillance systems, the snout recognition software could identify dogs that are fouling the streets or roaming in public areas. The animals are blissfully unbothered by their transgressions, although their owners could pay more of a penalty, with negative implications for their social credit ratings (when that system formally launches) and fines. Both parties would be heading for the doghouse, it seems.
“Nose print app lets dog owners track their pets, reining in irresponsible masters,” was how the Global Times summed it up.
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