China’s “gait recognition” tech can identify people by the way they walk

The Chinese government has initiated the use of “gait recognition” tech which identifies people based on the features of their body and by the way they walk. So far, this is being used to monitor the public in Beijing and Shanghai.

The gate recognition tech can identify people from a distance of 50 (165 feet) meters. What makes this software particularly useful is it has the potential to recognize people even if their backs were to the camera. The software is being developed by China-based tech firm Watrix.

“You don’t need people’s cooperation for us to be able to recognize their identity,” Huang said in an interview in his Beijing office. “Gait analysis can’t be fooled by simply limping, walking with splayed feet or hunching over, because we’re analyzing all the features of an entire body.”

According to Chinese news reports, Watrix is expediting the development of the gate recognition tech by raising 100 million yaun (14.5 million) over the past month.

Security agents in the province of Xinjiang, a region which has a high concentration of Muslims (already subject to heavy surveillance) has already expressed interest in acquiring the software. However, according to experts, the development of this software is quite complex, and it will take a bit of time before it will be able to function flawlessly. 

Mark Nixon, leading expert on gait recognition at the University of Southampton in Britain says, “It’s more complex than other biometrics, computationally.”

“It takes bigger computers to do gait because you need a sequence of images rather than a single image.”

It is worth mentioning that so far, Watrix’s software cannot identify people in real time. The software will need to extract a silhouette of the person from a video, and later analyze the silhouette’s movement to create a model that mimics how each distinct person walks.

So essentially, the security agent must upload the video first to the program which will take 10 minutes to search through an hour long footage clip. The software is used specifically to analyze video footage from any camera device.

According to Huang, cofounder of Watrix, the software can also recognize people in need of assistance, such as an elderly individual who has fallen and can’t get up.

“People still don’t recognize they can be recognized by their gait, whereas everybody knows you can be recognized by your face,” Nixon said. “We believe you are totally unique in the way you walk.”

This technology is by no means new. Gait recognition software has been worked on before for many years by experts in the UK, Japan, and the US DISA (Defense Information Systems Agency). In Japan, professors from the University of Osaka worked alongside the Japanese national police agency to launch a pilot version of the gait recognition tech in 2013.