Imagine walking into a retail store and encoun­tering a dig­ital screen that instantly flashes tai­lored adver­tising to you in the blink of an eye. This clever mar­keting strategy is the result of inno­v­a­tive facial recog­ni­tion tech­nology being devel­oped by W. Rus­sell Pensyl, a pro­fessor of art and chair of North­eastern University’s Depart­ment of Art + Design.

Pensyl describes the tech­nology as “an unob­tru­sive, ubiq­ui­tous con­tent delivery system” in which a camera scans a person’s face and, using expan­sive libraries of com­pa­rable images, deter­mines the person’s gender and approx­i­mate age. A screen in front of the shopper then loads and dis­plays cor­re­sponding adver­tise­ments or other types of mar­keting or media con­tent based on that profile.

The system can also detect whether the person is wearing glasses and if the person is smiling, and Pensyl hopes to develop the soft­ware to ana­lyze other attrib­utes, such as fashion sense and hair­style. The key, he said, is to have an easy-​​to-​​use inter­face that is adapt­able for future appli­ca­tions that may arise.

The tech­nology has enor­mous poten­tial and is ready to be shown to ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists for the funding to bring it to the mar­ket­place, said Pensyl.

It can be any­place in an envi­ron­ment, and it can play cer­tain types of media con­tent based off of the pro­file that we define,” Pensyl said.

He also stressed that the tech­nology oper­ates in a run-​​time envi­ron­ment, meaning no infor­ma­tion cap­tured on camera is stored and col­lected. “Once they exit the frame, it’s gone. There’s no goal to do any data cap­turing,” Pensyl said.

Other pos­sible uses include observing shop­ping habits and shop­pers’ reac­tions to prod­ucts and store lay­outs. In addi­tion, a hand­held device could be used to scan the prod­ucts them­selves and pro­vide helpful back­ground or com­par­ison information.

How­ever, this tech­nology means more to Pensyl than just its com­mer­cial poten­tial. He also plans to have his stu­dents work on inter­ac­tive paint­ings that incor­po­rate the tech­nology. For instance, Pensyl said, in a dig­ital painting of flowers, the flowers’ age could mirror the age of the person viewing them. Or if the person viewing the painting is smiling, the flowers could blossom or the colors could become more vibrant.

If this thing has com­mer­cial suc­cess, that’s great. But as an artist and designer, I’m also inter­ested in how to build cul­tural arti­facts on top of the sys­tems,” he said.