The new face of aging: UNCW professor turns life expectancy research into business is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

After years of research in facial analytics, Karl Ricanek, right, has created a company to help expedite life expectancy predictions. Photo courtesy UNCW/Jeff Janowski.
After years of research in facial analytics, UNCW computer science professor Karl Ricanek, right, has created a company to help expedite life expectancy predictions. Photo courtesy UNCW/Jeff Janowski.

The lines in your forehead say a little something about you–how you’ve lived, for one, and how long you’ve likely got left.

Your face, in fact, is a bit of a visual biographer–from the width of your mouth, to the distance from your upper lip to your nose–it tells the story of your age and longevity.

Karl Ricanek already knows this well. For more than a decade, the biometrics expert and UNC-Wilmington professor has developed facial recognition software for agencies like the FBI, National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Army Research Laboratory.

Now, he’s delving further into what analytics can tell about life expectancy with FaceMyAge, a website that evaluates uploaded photos by comparing them to facial characteristics of others with the same chronological age, gender, ethnicity and other personal characteristics after a short series of lifestyle questions about marital status, sun exposure, smoking and level of education.

And he’s turning his years of research into a business venture than, in part, will benefit the university from which it was borne.

Ricanek has partnered with University of Chicago epidemiology professor Dr. S. Jay Olshansky and a team of scientists to create Lapetus Solutions, which blends biodemographics and facial analysis to provide forecasts and vital health statistics.

Using UNCW-licensed technology, Lapetus Solutions is seeking to market the software to companies that rely heavily on life expectancy algorithms, such as life insurance companies, banks and even cosmetic and anti-aging skin care lines.

Lapetus technology, Ricanek believes, can help derive outcomes about aging much more quickly and accurately than more traditional biomarkers like blood work.

“Our body is a biomedical system, and eventually it breaks down,” he said. “You can pick up markers of those natural breakdowns on the face or body, whether they have been caused by poor health choices or genetics…We know through science that blood work for certain groups is kind of irrelevant; it doesn’t tell us much…We also know that our face holds more precise markers than biomarkers.”

Blood work can’t say much, especially for those under the age of 60, Ricanek said, but it can also impede the process of securing something like life insurance. It can take a week to several weeks to process a life insurance application, he noted, with time needed for complete medical surveys and processing.

“Our solution says we can get you to an answer that is far more accurate in a matter of minutes. We’re talking 15 minutes versus, say, seven weeks,” Ricanek said.

Ricanek said he has also been in contact with banks, most of which have made strides in streamlining their loan approval process. But because many lending institutions now require life insurance to get a loan, he said, those otherwise expedited systems are slowed down on the life insurance application end.

“They’re impeded by that one small aspect,” he said.

And FaceMyAge could also benefit the cosmetics industry, which often is searching for ways to “quantify anti-aging on real people,” Ricanek added.

He and partners have licensed patents through UNCW, giving the local university a small stake in Lapetus Solutions.

And as the company presses forward with marketing nationally—and maybe internationally—Ricanek said UNCW will play a crucial role.

Of the nine employees Lapetus has hired, five are affiliated with UNCW, either as faculty, graduates or current students.

“So, not only did we grow the idea at the university, we’re now engaging the university and its students in this process,” Ricanek said.

And Ricanek said that process has also made its way into his own classroom.

“I now understand things I previously did not about the start-up environment and the software environment,” he said. “We have a lot of students who are interested in their own start-ups. Now, I can mentor those students.”

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or