Lip-tattoo identification is the prevailing standard for authenticating that each horse arriving at the paddock for the next race is not there by mistake–or is not a ringer.

The science of biometrics now offers a contemporary approach to perform this task in a noninvasive way. The promising methodology is facial recognition software, which is increasingly being deployed by a variety of organizations to verify human and animal identity.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, some airports installed facial recognition software. At that time, it was susceptible to being fooled; for example, if a person wore glasses or performed a facial contortion.

Since then, the accuracy of facial recognition software has been improved dramatically owing to 3-d scanning and the capacity to map unique features like scars and skin pores.

In the summer of 2011, Facebook introduced facial recognition software that identifies photos of individuals without their names attached. Other notable adopters of the technology include the military, police departments, casinos, and the FBI. When Navy Seals dispatched Osama bin Laden, facial recognition software was used to assist in corroborating his identity.

Recent tests by the National Institute of Standards found that the best facial recognition software can correctly identify two photographs of the same person more accurately than humans can, or over 99 percent of the time. One company sells an employee identification machine for $745 that it says can distinguish between pictures of identical twins.

The usefulness of facial recognition software is not limited to humans. To illustrate, the technology has made it much easier for game wardens to track wild animals like apes and elephants so their behavior can be studied.

Science Daily reports that apes are now routinely videotaped while feeding, in trees, and traversing the forest. To the naked eye, it is difficult to distinguish one ape from another, even in proximity. But facial recognition software has made it possible to sort out apes from their pictures, with a growing degree of validity.

Facial recognition software would be much more exact in confirming the identities of racehorses arriving at a paddock before a race than it is in identifying apes in their natural habitat. Each horse’s face would be photographed up close and then the image would be instantaneously compared to a registered photo of the animal. This protocol is precisely how employees are often cleared to enter secured workplaces.

The Jockey Club and racetracks need to experiment with a combination of facial recognition software and scannable radio frequency identification chips implanted under a horse’s skin–with an eye toward abandoning the crude and decidedly low-tech lip tattoo.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business

Originally published in the Blood-Horse. Used with permission.