Microsoft has built a facial recognition pet door that uses a webcam, a passive infrared motion sensor, servo motors, and OpenCV facial recognition on a Minnowboard Max – an open-source, single-board computer – running Windows IoT Core in order to let your cat into the house while barring criminals from the family Rodentia.
As Microsoft shows in the video it posted onto its official Windows YouTube channel on Tuesday, when your pet walks up to the door, it triggers a motion sensor, activating a mounted webcam that captures a few frames of the animal’s face. An OpenCV classifier then either grants or denies access to the animal seeking entry.
OpenCV classifiers can be trained using groups of similar images. For example, here’s a YouTube video tutorial on training a classifier on car detection using a library of car images:
Of course, facial recognition has a history of being tricked. Static photos are easy to spoof by holding up a 2D picture to a camera, for example. There’s a plethora of cat images that can be found online, along with latitude and longitude coordinates embedded in the images’ metadata.
Sentient hacker racoons with opposable thumbs, or gremlins small enough to fit through cat flaps, could theoretically find a nearby cat’s photo fairly easily and use it to spoof the biometric entry.
But even moving photos are spoofable. Google at one point filed a patent for “Liveness Checks,” but researchers using the most basic of photo editing tools managed to fool the Liveness Check with just a few minutes of editing and animating photos to make them look like subjects were fluttering their eyelashes.
Animating twitching whiskers would be just as easy.
In August 2016, researchers also managed to use a handful of publicly available photos collected on sites such as Facebook to create 3D facial models that fooled facial recognition systems.
Microsoft claims that its facial recognition cat flap takes only a few seconds to recognize or reject an animal, promising a “seamless approach” that won’t confuse pets.
The company has provided a guide for those who’d like to make their own automated pet door with Windows 10 IoT Core, which is a version of Windows 10 that’s optimized for smaller devices. Microsoft estimates that it takes about 10 hours on average – a potentially “fun project over the holidays” – to create your own cat biometric flap.
Security is of course a sore spot in the Internet of Things (IoT) space. Microsoft has promised that Windows 10 IoT Core provides security features that can prevent network attacks on, or physical tampering with, whatever devices IoT Core is running in.
It doesn’t hurt to be extra careful when it comes to the security of IoT gadgets, however. So before you start on the cat flap, you might also want to take a look at our tips on securing the IoT.
Because really. Squirrels?
Say no more.
23 comments on “Meow! Facial recognition reaches pet doors”
Wouldn’t it just be more effective to have a pet door that scans pet RFID chips when the pet comes close to the door?
Not if your pet got bullied by the neighbourhood tom cat and thus got its chip-containing collar stolen. Worse yet, now the bully has “keys” to your door. So no simple solutions cut it — it’s obviously complex multi-device technology necessary here.
My cats’ collars get left all over the neighborhood. I was thinking the RFID chip had more to do with the subcutaneous injectable ones, though, that are used to identify lost pets…? And I was thinking that if an RFID approach would be easier than a servo motor 10-hour holiday Microsoft project, then the cat flap programmer would be forced to spend those 10 hours with relatives, which might or might not be a positive. 🙂
I meant the subcutaneous injectable ones. Turns out, even Amazon sells automatic pet doors that do respond to subcutaneous injectable RFID tags.
It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.
Most posts miss the point – facial recognition software can block your cat’s entry when it has a (live or dead) rodent in its mouth. Combined with RFID technology this appears to be the ultimate solution.
no this stops them bringing “gifts” into the house
We did it everyone! Pack it up and go home, we have developed the pinnacle of technology!
“Sentient hacker racoons with opposable thumbs, or gremlins small enough to fit through cat flaps, could theoretically find a nearby cat’s photo fairly easily and use it to spoof the biometric entry.” Classic!
I went nuts when I was writing this, trying to find that cyberpunk short story—was it by Gibson or Sterling?—about a sentience vaccine that accidentally got out into the population of all animals. Raccoons developed their own currency: some type of intricately braided material, IIRC. Dogs prowled the streets, looking to correct overturned trash cans. Cats developed extraordinarily cruel new ways to torture mice and developed a fascination for television. Eventually, the raccoons began kamikaze missions: one would infect itself with rabies and launch itself at humans unless they left out food offerings.
Those sentient raccoons would hack the smithereens out of these facial recognition pet flaps, I’m telling ya. Can anybody remember the name of that story and who wrote it?
Floating Dogs by Ian Mc Donald? (Implants, not a vaccine, but there was a sentient raccoon, apparently.)
I’ll have to check it out. It’s been a while. I remember it was told in a series of newscasts: as in, “those rumors about kamikaze rabid raccoon attacks are spurious fear-mongering!” … so of course they were true.
Or…develop a scanner that can scan a cat’s nose because a cat’s nose print is as unique as a human fingerprint.
How long before someone sues Microsoft because something went wrong, leaving their cat outside to freeze to death?
What is wrong with the already widely available cat flap that reads your cats microchip (the one that the vet injects into the cat’s neck)? No losable collars needed.
Because facial recognition! Because IoT! Because cat pics!
Just keep your cat indoors. I always have. Safer for my cat and endangered wildlife.
My Siamese cat looks like a raccoon in low light so I’m sure raccoons would easily be coming in and partying.
I think we would need to combine both rfid (ensuring that it is your cat) and facial recognition (forcing him/her to leave live snacks outside) to have a complete solution.
Hello, I would be really interested in building this project, does anyone here have coding experience that would be able to help me out?
There’s a how-to guide published by Microsoft that’s the place to start – there’s a link to it in the article (search for “guide”).
This would be fantastic if it also rejected my cat when she was carrying a mouse, gopher, or other small creature into the house for an all night torture session. If she has something hanging out of her mouth, “sorry- no entry!”
Can it tell if the cat has something in it’s mouth?