Apple has filed a new patent application for face-recognition technology that could be used to improve security in iPhone and iPad devices.

The patent, which is titled “3D Object Recognition”, refers to a new facial recognition technology that creates a 3D shape from a 2D representation of a 3D object (a face, for example) to recognise that object when faced with it again.

The application, which was filed in November 2011 and published last week, describes: “The present invention relates to automated object recognition and in particular to automated object recognition of 3D objects using statistical shape information.”

Apple notes that the technology could be used to identify a person for purposes such as immigration, ID cards, passports, computer logon, intranet security, video surveillance and access systems.

The application describes that the recognition process is fully automatic, and the 3D shape could be created using one or several images of the object.

The technology could also be used in medical environments to identify organs, for example, or installed in CCTV cameras to identify wanted criminals or missing people.

The technology could be used in the next generation of iOS devices or Macs to provide a better security system. Users would be required to hold their device so that their face is in view of the front-facing camera, and let the device perform the face recognition process, rather than type in a password or PIN to access the device.