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The Not-so-slow JavaScript face detector was written two years ago. Initially, it is a one-day-hacking to see if the state-of-art face detector technology is implementable at tolerable speed with JavaScript. That one day's hack lived up years with many extensions and applications spreading on the web: a JQuery plug-in, a video face detector and a mustache demo. One interesting finding over years is that the JavaScript speed increased dramatically on both Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. When I was writing the face detector, a 800x600 image usually took more than 6 seconds on Firefox 3, but now with Firefox 10, it takes about 1 second. At around the same time, Google Chrome is improved from about 2 seconds to 1 second. This script alone witnessed the armed race between browsers and it is a good thing. But over years, although the source code is out there, how this worked is never explained. I did little comment in the source code, and the algorithm is not as well-known as HAAR classifier used in OpenCV.

The very basic instrument used in my implementation is called control-point feature (renamed to brightness binary feature to reflect that the implementation in ccv works only on brightness value). For a given WxH image region, one feature consists of two sets of control points, a[1], a[2], ... a[n] and b[1], b[2], ... , b[m]. To classify the given image region, a feature examines the pixel values at control points in group a and group b in relevant images (at original size, half-size and quarter-size). The feature only answers "yes" if all pixel values in group a is greater / less than any pixel values in group b. The details can be found in the original paper YEF: Real-time Object Detection and a follow-up High-Performance Rotation Invariant Multiview Face Detection. Long story short, the training program bbfcreate will create several strong linear classifiers from control-point features using AdaBoost.

The control-point feature is simple enough that after the generation of the image pyramid (a series of images that downsized from original WxH size image to W/2xH/2, W/4xH/4 ...), there is no further image processing required. If the computation to generate such image pyramid can be negligible, for each control-point feature, it accesses fewer memory locations (n + m <= 5) than HAAR-like features (the one implemented in OpenCV, requires 6~9 memory accesses). This turns out to be a good improvement, and the ccv implementation in C achieved similar accuracy (82.97% with 12 false alarms V.S. 86.69% with 15 false alarms) comparing with OpenCV default face detector but 3 times faster (as a side note, this is still far from proprietary implementation which achieves ~90% with ~3 false alarms on the same data set, read more details). This is an even better news for the JavaScript implementation since the downsizing operation can be offloaded natively with HTML5 canvas' drawing method. That's the secret sauce in my not-so-slow face detector (implemented in line 200).

Once the image pyramid is generated, the detection process is just following the paper. The algorithm sweep over the whole image at different resolutions to check if a face exists there with control-point feature (line 290). I have no other tricks to improve speed-wise beyond this point. At the end of this process, it merges detected areas and returns that with confidence score.

OK, let's reconfirm how fast it is:

This 2808x1805 image takes 6 seconds on Firefox with Web Worker off, and 10 seconds with Web Worker on. It takes 4 seconds on Google Chrome (Web Worker doesn't work as smooth in Google Chrome).

Please let me know what else in this implementation you want to be explained in the comments.

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