Is it a D’oh or an oops? Whatever it is the folks at Hewlett-Packard (HP) must be a bit red-faced over the incident. It seems that HP’s new face tracking webcam has a bit of a racial bias. It happily tracks faces that are white, but isn’t quite as obliging with faces that are black.
A demonstration HP’s webcam has been posted on YouTube. In the video two co-workers demonstrate the webcam’s little idiosyncrasy. Sure enough, the web camera has no problem tracking “white Wanda’s” face, while refusing to track “black Desi's”. As if that’s not bad enough, Desi confesses to having just bought the same system for Christmas.
Over at the Voodo Blog an HP representative posted: “We are working with our partners to learn more. The technology we use is built on standard algorithms that measure the difference in intensity of contrast between the eyes and the upper cheek and nose. We believe that the camera might have difficulty 'seeing' contrast in conditions where there is insufficient foreground lighting.”
It’s very likely that HP is right--the algorithms aren’t up to snuff. But, it also imparts a reasonable lesson: be sure your product is ready for primetime before release. It might save you from an awkward YouTube moment.