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Philanthropic Updates from The University of Texas at Dallas

Corporate Partner Supports Interdisciplinary Facial Recognition Research

By Daniel Steele  |  March 4, 2019

NEC Corporation of America (NEC) has been a constant presence on the UT Dallas campus in recent years. The company’s mission to provide integrated technology solutions for businesses and society finds its natural fit with the University’s focus on fostering industry-changing research and innovation.

“NEC is a terrific partner for UT Dallas,” said Monique Wedderburn, director of development and alumni relations for the Asia Center, Office of Diversity and Community Engagement, and School of Interdisciplinary Studies. “They create unique opportunities for our faculty and students to reach new heights of creativity and allow work done on campus to have a real-world impact.”

In addition to generous grant funding for faculty and student research, NEC employees have engaged with the University to serve as judges for undergraduate and graduate research competitions, as sponsors for student capstone projects and as mentors for class projects across multiple schools.

In 2018, NEC chose to deepen their relationship with UT Dallas through a significant gift to support research in both the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science and the Naveen Jindal School of Management.

The $100,000 grant will support Dr. Carlos Busso, associate professor of electrical engineering, and Dr. Khai Chiong, assistant professor of marketing, as they refine and develop new applications for facial recognition technology in natural human environments.

Busso’s work focuses on solving a significant problem in the current field of facial recognition when attempting to identify emotions displayed during real-time interactions. Although machine recognition of emotion is increasingly accurate in still images, when monitored in real-time, human faces display significant “noise” stemming from speech articulation that obscures their underlying emotional states.

“Our research will apply machine learning techniques to isolate emotional content from other sources of variation in facial appearance,” Busso explained.

His findings could impact the field of health informatics by allowing for the assessment of neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and has potential security applications for identifying threats using emotional clues. A portion of his NEC grant will be used to recruit the assistance of undergraduate students in the UTDesign program.

Chiong’s research seeks to broaden the scope of commercial applications for NEC’s current facial recognition technology. By creating a biometric “loyalty reward card,” facial recognition can be used to track customer activity in businesses and provide an improved shopping experience through customized service, such as live targeted promotions or recommendations based on past purchases. Part of Chiong’s work will also involve analyzing customers’ emotional responses to new marketing strategies made possible by this technology.

The interdisciplinary aspect of this research — approaching a problem from multiple perspectives across multiple schools — is a hallmark of UT Dallas’s academic philosophy. The work made possible by NEC promises to have important ramifications for both the academic field and commercial use of facial recognition technology.

“We are deeply grateful for the loyal partnership that UT Dallas enjoys with NEC Corporation of America,” said UT Dallas President Richard C. Benson. “Their generous support has enabled groundbreaking research and the company’s presence on campus continues to motivate our students. This relationship has been invaluable, and we look forward to benefiting from NEC’s expertise in the future.”