Amazon's Fire Phone Studies Your Face to Create Cool 3D Effects

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Jeff Bezos is throwing a lot of cool stuff at us today with the Amazon Fire Phone. FireFly was a shocker, but perfect for an Amazon-branded phone. The impulse purchasing button has been perfectly integrated. Next, we are getting into the phone's multiple cameras, which we have been expecting, as the Fire Phone was rumored to have 3D capabilities.

Bezos started off the explanation by giving the audience a history lesson on perspective:

Then, he hit us with what we have been expecting: the 3D interface, complete with “dynamic perspective.” It doesn’t give you "jump out at you" 3D, rather, it is just a more clear and well rounded perspective on objects. The screen has a full-blown depth effect; even the lock screens have 3D effects. 

The maps feature might benefit most from the 3D capabilities. Bezos shows us the Empire State Building in 3D. (Thanks for the East Coast shout out, Jeff!) As you move the map around, different layers move in relation to one another. The Verge says “the UI feels just a little more alive” and I would agree, it certainly seems to have a unique fluidity to it. 

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Next, Bezos moved the screen left, showing the navigation which can bring you directly to (yet another) shopping feature. If you’re looking at a variety of dresses, you can move the screen to make the picture larger or make it smaller to increase the information that appears. 

The motion of the screen is getting even more detailed: Bezos tipped the screen to scroll through a browser window. Tilting the screen for scroll isn’t unusual, but it usually is rather clunky. 

Bezos takes a quick detour to discuss navigation, and it’s back to cameras. We are finally getting to the front facing camera. The phone knows where your head is at all times (which still seems very creepy to me.) 

Amazon came up with this technology by testing headgear with infrared lights. Instead of asking users to wear glasses (Glassholes need not apply,) Amazon is using computer vision. But because every user is different — especially aesthetically with hair, facial decorations (beards), and other such things — one camera would not do for computer vision.

Instead, Amazon made special cameras with a 120-degree field of vision. Two cameras would allow for the depth needed to identify where someone’s face is, however, Amazon figured out that sometimes people cover part of their phone (like when they hold it by the corners) so they just went ahead and added four cameras. That’s right. Four. There are four front facing cameras. 

via TechCrunch.

In the event you want to use the phone in the pitch black, the front facing cameras have infrared light installed to find your face. Facial recognition is a difficult technology to master. Amazon studied millions of images of people’s faces to train its facial recognition software. As Bezos put it, “We got really good at tracking faces, finding heads.” Luckily, this technology is really cool, otherwise I would be sufficiently terrified. 

Studying a couple million heads allows Fire Phone to understand the difference between a real human head and a picture of a human head. Okay, it is kind of terrifying. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.