GameSpot reports that while testing out Kinect, the system failed to identify two dark-skinned employees, while lighter-skinned employees were recognized immediately. However, the situation with Kinect's facial recognition isn't so black and white. GS's Brendan Sinclair writes that though system recognized one employee inconsistently and was never able to properly identify another despite repeated calibration attempts, it was able to recognize a third dark-skinned staff member. Though this could be put down to Kinect's facial recognition software just being dodgy as a whole, Sinclair reports lighter-skinned employees were consistently picked up on the first try.
The situation is reminiscent of HP's face-tracking webcams, which had problems tracking the faces of users with darker skin tones.
"We are working with our partners to learn more," HP said in a statement issued at the time. "The technology we use is built on standard algorithms that measure the difference in intensity of contrast between the eyes and the upper cheek and nose. We believe that the camera might have difficulty 'seeing' contrast in conditions where there is insufficient foreground lighting."
Microsoft has not said if Kinect's facial recognition camera is suffering from the same issue. A representative spoke to GameSpot and had the following to say:
"The goal of Kinect is to break down the barriers for everyone to play, and it will work with people of all shapes and ethnicities at launch."
The rep also gave a phone number (1-800-4-MY-XBOX) for people to call if they're having problems with calibration or recognition.
Whether or not Kinect has problems identifying people with dark skin, it's important to note that this won't stop anyone playing Kinect because the system tracks your whole body, not just your face. However, users experiencing problems will have to sign in manually, rather than enjoy the privilege of having Kinect sign them in when they walk into the room.
[Update] Consumer Reports has done a little test to see if Kinect really is 'racist,' as many sites are reporting. The consumer advocate group says that it is similar to the HP webcam problem in that the Kinect cameras need a certain amount of light to recognize faces. CR found that the system had problems recognizing users with both light and dark skin when there was insufficient light in the gaming environment, and added that there wasn't any instance when one person was recognized and another wasn't under the same lighting conditions.
Check out what Consumer Reports had to say: