War Memorial taps NEC facial recognition tech to identify WW1 Diggers

Anzac Day 2020 will see Dawn Services live streamed, but another first has used biometric technology to uncover the identities of Australian World War 1 soldiers

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As Anzac Day Dawn Services are set to be live streamed for the first time, another technology first has seen facial recognition technology used to identify lost World War 1 Diggers from the Western Front in an Australian War Memorial project with NEC Australia.

The Australian War Memorial invited NEC to spend two days testing images of soldiers photographed in 1916 using its NeoFace Reveal facial recognition technology. The photographs were taken by a husband and wife duo, the Thuillier family, in their home village of Vignacourt, just behind the Western Front battlelines in Northern France.

The images on glass negatives were part of almost 4000 uncovered in a wooden chest in the attic of the Thuillier’s former farmhouse almost a century after the photos were taken at the height of the Great War.

NEC executive general manager, brand and customer experience, David Borean, told CMO it was both a unique and important project. He said it’s the first time the technology has been able to match a series of images in real-time against a database of images.

“Because it was trialled for the first time, we weren’t sure whether these could be matched. But having the accurate facial recognition technology produced a great result,” he said.

A collection of the images were later purchased by an Australian philanthropist and then donated to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Unfortunately, however, none of the people in the photos could be identified when the photos were discovered.

A national roadshow of the images entitled ‘Remember Me: the lost diggers of Vignacourt’ uncovered a handful of potential identifications.

Over two days of supervised testing, NEC Australia compared images from the Vignacourt collection against other identified images from two other photographic collections at the War Memorial. Scores of potential matches were uncovered. NEC’s team used its NeoFace Reveal facial recognition technology to identify soldiers with a matching threshold of more than 80 per cent.

“To be able to help them identify previously unknown soldiers was a thrill for us and a testament to what NEC’s modern solutions can do, potentially in the national interest,” Borean said.

The first of these was of a Private Robert Deegan (pictured), a young soldier who was photographed by the Thuilliers in Vignacourt in 1916 and a year earlier at a recruitment station in country Victoria. The resemblance was undeniable.

Credit: AWM

Brand mission: Adding societal value

Borean said all the technology NEC deploys around the world is based on one simple premise: How to add value to society. He told CMO the company has evolved from being a consumer electronics company to one driven by solutions for society.

“We look at the customer experience and what they’re achieving with the technology. It’s understanding the significance of the challenge the customer is facing,” he said.

“Technology is one thing, but it’s actually the customer experience which is the primary driver behind all the biometric solutions.”

“From a marketing perspective, our position is how we bring humanity and technology together to create solutions for society."

While biometric technology is one part of the brand’s suite of solutions, NEC saw the importance of being able to deploy facial recognition for a national cause and to show the possibilities of 21st century technology finding shedding light on the past.

“All Australians are aware of our nation’s proud military past, in particular our service in World War 1 and to be able to successfully uncover diggers whose identities remained a mystery for almost a century was not only exciting, but a great privilege,” Borean added.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia. 

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