Campus Reform | You've heard of face recognition...but what about 'mask recognition'?

You've heard of face recognition...but what about 'mask recognition'?

UNC created a video-based system to alert students when they are not complying with social distancing policy.

The university planned to track trends in social distancing at various points on campus.

However, UNC has since transitioned most classes online.

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Prior to the University of North Carolina's decision to shift to remote learning for the fall semester, the institution developed a “Health Greeter Kiosk” that was intended to assess whether students were wearing masks and staying six feet apart.

According to CBS, as students were set to enter academic buildings, dining halls, and other hotspots around campus, their faces would be recorded to see if they are wearing masks. If they were not — or, if they were within six feet of another student — a kiosk will display a message and politely alert them to comply with social distancing protocol.

According to Steven King, an associate professor at the UNC School of Media and Journalism, the system was developed from a desire to use artificial intelligence to stop the spread of COVID-19. The university partnered with Lenovo’s artificial intelligence department to develop a computer vision system, which is equipped to track students’ physical distance from one another and recognize if they are wearing masks.

[RELATED: Universities threaten sanctions for not wearing masks, failure to social distance]

King told The Daily Tar Heel that the kiosk can detect if a person is within its range and if that person is wearing a mask.

“It uses computer vision to see if there is a person there, and if that person is wearing a mask or not and if they are outside of six feet of another person,” King said.

Lenovo is a Hong Kong-based technology firm with operational headquarters in North Carolina and Beijing.

[RELATED: Mandatory masks on campus: Is it constitutional?]

King said that the school planned to pilot the system in a few buildings, then install more kiosks across campus and work with other universities to implement the technology. King also said the system would not collect any personal data. 

However, the university will track trends in social distancing compliance at key points across campus.

"There is no engagement from the administration other than seeing the aggregate statistics of what will be happening,” King told the student newspaper.

[RELATED: UNC fined $1.5M for misreporting campus crime stats]

William Wharton, a rising senior studying sports administration at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill told Campus Reform he doesn't think that the kiosk will increase mask-wearing among students.

“This seems a little ridiculous... I feel like this is a slight overstep on the university’s part, and I’m not sure if the cost of this technology will be outweighed by the benefit of knowing if a student is wearing a face mask or not," Wharton said.

It's not clear how often the new technology will be used, however. 

UNC announced in August it would transition all undergraduate courses to remote instruction for the fall semester. Some graduate-level courses, however, will still be held on campus.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft