Most of you have probably heard of Face.com, a leading facial recognition company acquired early this week by Facebook. One of Face’s competitors that’s starting to get an increasing amount of recognition is a French, Clerrmont-Ferrand based start-up called Vesalis. Vesalis is expanding internationally and gaining visibility, having been selected to participate in the annual FrenchTechTour in Silicon Valley which took place earlier this month.
Launched in 2005 by entrepreneur Jean-Marc Robin, Vesalis first focused on facial recognition technology in beauty applications given the obvious natural fit with the beauty market. According to a recent discussion I had with Michel Vannier, Vesalis’ VP of US Business Development, there are a few main things that set their technology apart from their competitors’. Firstly, their facial recognition technology utilises video rather than pictures (still images). This is quite important because video provides a more dynamic approach to facial recognition – i.e. the technology allows you to observe and incorporate expression as well as basic facial characteristics. In addition video helps to eliminate the obvious problem that a user can ‘trick’ the technology by simply holding up a picture to the camera. Secondly, within beauty applications, their technology allows for multiple products (up to 15 in fact) to be incorporated on the facial simulation. As you can probably imagine, this is highly useful in cosmetics retail where customers are looking to test various products, often simultaneously. Lastly, one of the main ways they suggest to implement their solution is in quick recognition situations. So, for example, a customer enters a store, the video image is compared to previous images captured of the person (if they’ve shopped there previously), and an alert is set to the salesperson’s device with a short profile of the customer (ie what they bought on previous occasions, their name, etc). This process is designed to be nearly instantaneous as well as highly effective and accurate, even in cases where they’re working from grainy images. Not surprisingly, this capability would be highly valuable in a broad range of applications, particularly security. In 2009, the French government realised that Vesalis’ technology could be useful for them in identifying known trouble makers at large events, particularly football matches, and, thus, decided to invest €2 million in Vesalis to develop a customised solution (as an aside, good to see an example of the government committing resources to a startup!).
Although their roots are in the beauty sector, their ambitions are clearly much broader as they are looking to extend their technology into applications such as securing of devices, banking, and general security (ie casinos, arenas, buildings). Since their founding, their on-going development has been primarily supported by a steady stream of client revenues which they continuously reinvest into R&D. As result, they have not needed thus far to rely on significant external investment to drive their development. However, as they’re looking to expand more rapidly in the US market, they expect they may need to raise a bit of funding in the near-term to support their growth plans. Now that Vesalis are more firmly on Silicon Valley’s radar, hopefully they’ll be able to tap into the resources they need to clearly establish themselves as the global leader in facial recognition.