Face of the future

Wouldn’t it be helpful if you could walk into Waitrose and be unobtrusively informed of special offers on your favorite brands? Years ago, the friendly owner of the corner store recognised regular customers, remembered what they bought and...

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Wouldn’t it be helpful if you could walk into Waitrose and be unobtrusively informed of special offers on your favorite brands? Years ago, the friendly owner of the corner store recognised regular customers, remembered what they bought and offered purchase suggestions. But as stores grew larger, inventories became more complex and the number of customers burgeoned, anticipating individual needs became well-nigh impossible.

That is, until now. New facial recognition technology coupled with next generation video analytics can help break down supermarket purchasing patterns—even browsing habits—to provide actionable insights into each and every consumer. Sure, online stores have for years used layered data to predict the needs of their customers, but now, advances in face-recognition solutions represent a significant step in the direction of mass customisation in the brick-and-mortar world.

Such creative solutions to identity management offer organsations, both private and public, an opportunity to raise the bar in the delivery of services, access and security. They not only enhance customer and citizen experience, reduce costs and improve public safety, but they can also drive companies to reinvent themselves to achieve high performance.

A wide range of passive identification technology applications are possible today. Biometrics are already being used to trigger messages that help healthcare staff better assign resources. One airport operator in the United Kingdom is testing its usefulness to manage passenger flow. But perhaps one of the most obvious—certainly one of the most topical—applications is in the area of policing and security, whether border management or public safety.

In the post-9/11 scenario, closed-circuit television has become ubiquitous in most Western cities. In the United Kingdom, for instance, cameras capture each citizen and visitor around 300 times a day. Analysing that data capture, often over long periods of time, to obtain operational insights places human resources under enormous strain, especially in times of heightened security.

Versatile face-matching technologies, on the other hand, offer private and public agencies an opportunity to automate manual tasks, while reducing costs and driving efficiencies. At the San Diego Trolley Corporation, for instance, video analytics provides security staff with unprecedented situational awareness, delivering real-time information to head off potential security threats.

Police forces aren’t too far behind either. London’s Metropolitan Police has announced it wants to leverage advances in face recognition software and other technologies (such as number plate recognition and DNA detection) to reduce crime rates. Early in 2012, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation will launch a nationwide facial-recognition service in select states that will let local police identify unknown subjects in photographs.

Three trends are driving the current wave of biometric innovation:


  • Improvements in camera technology with enhanced resolution, higher frame rates and better lenses offering sharper, high-quality images more cheaply

  • The versatility of digital video, IP networks, disk storage and processing capabilities that remove the confines of the security control room

  • Dramatic improvements in computer vision algorithms that enhance the performance and accuracy of video analytics applications

Practical applications of enabling technologies such as biometrics that make the lives of people simpler or more enriching have already been warmly received. The automated immigration gates at London’s Heathrow airport and India’s enhanced citizen services via a national identity card are but two examples of this.

However, these improved interactions serve to raise citizens’ expectations in terms of service quality and delivery deadlines. So, the emerging opportunities are about much more than just adopting new technologies. There are far-reaching implications for the strategic and business objectives of both public and private service organisations. And they need to respond with new operating models that technology enables through intelligent and reliable solutions.

Whether used to screen visitors at immigration counters, augment police efforts, deliver improved and better targeted civic services, or simply to enhance the high-street shopping experience, face-recognition technologies are already changing the way we live and work.

Of course, it will take technology some time to achieve the human capability of instant face recognition or ability to pick up on social cues. But when it comes to identifying individuals in a group, video footage synced with face recognition are the tools for tomorrow.

Cyrille Battaller, Director at Accenture Technology Labs

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