Feeds

Facial-recognition tech now used to greet hotel guests

'Welcome back to the Grand, your Highness (82±13%)'

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

Facial recognition technology has long been a holy grail for security agencies, and a bogeyman for privacy lovers and libertarians. One company, however, says that reasonably priced face-recognition tech has uses outside the security field: in particular, in the service sector.

At the Counter Terror Expo this week in London, Derbyshire firm Zycomm was showing off its wares to the assembled cops, spies, security types and mercenaries. Zycomm mainly distributes two-way radios - for security guards, for instance. But they also offer a facial-recognition system for use with security cameras, aimed at customers such as shopping centres.

"This stuff used to be strictly government-agency business," Zycomm engineer Steve Ball told The Reg.

"But now you can get a useful system like this in the £20,000 bracket - it's within the reach of commercial customers."

Zycomm's setup can zero in on faces from any camera, but Ball said that like most face-spotter software it only starts to show useful levels of performance where people need to move through a chokepoint facing the camera - ideally looking up into it and well lit.

"Doors are OK," says Ball. "Escalators are good - we all look up when we're on an escalator."

The biz-grade spotter has an 80 or 90 per cent chance of recognising someone in its files in such circumstances, according to Ball, provided the file image is a good one. Zycomm's special trick is that the system can then send a text message to a portable radio, saying who it thinks it has identified, where, and with what level of confidence.

Typically this might be used to notify patrolling security guards that a known shoplifter had entered their complex. In this case the file images would be those of convicted crims routinely circulated by police - Ball doesn't recommend that his clients start treating people as thieves without solid proof.

In theory, eagle-eyed CCTV operators could do this without automated assistance, but very few commercial security teams can afford enough staff to individually monitor every camera. Typically there will be only one person watching all the cameras in a building, and this person will also be manning a reception desk, answering calls, issuing keys etc. So an educated guess by the automatic face-spotter is better than nothing.

But Ball says it doesn't have to be all about security. He says at least one hotel has bought the system; but instead of having face-files of thieves, confidence tricksters, tarts etc the system is set up to recognise returning customers. Thus the doorman or concierge can receive a message on their handset to the effect "His Highness the Maharajah of Grogpore, Grade 1 high roller, approaching main door, 82 per cent confidence", and so greet valued clients by name.

It is, of course, every free-born Briton's right to take pictures of people and keep them - particularly on his or her own property - so there isn't any legal problem with keeping private face files provided the Data Protection Act is complied with. Nonetheless the wise hotelier would make sure that his customers were happy to have pictures added to all the other information a company likes to record about its clients.

As for whether it works, one might say that just as 80-90 per cent accuracy is never going to sustain the man-tracker panopticon aspired to by the Home Office, neither is it good enough in the case of handling important customers. But that, literally in this case, would depend on your viewpoint. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
US judge: YES, cops or feds so can slurp an ENTIRE Gmail account
Crooks don't have folders labelled 'drug records', opines NY beak
ONE EMAIL costs mining company $300 MEEELION
Environmental activist walks free after hoax sent share price over a cliff
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.