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How a soccer club uses facial recognition access control

The Los Angeles Football Club began using the Rock, an autonomous access platform, in 2021. Players and staff use the Rock to access facilities without a key system.

Two years into the pandemic, many organizations are looking for ways to safely return to the office.

The Los Angeles Football Club was among them. With 30 staff members working at the professional soccer team's stadium and 60 staff members and players accessing the training facility, the LAFC wanted to move away from the traditional lock and key method of gaining access into both locations.

The team settled on facial recognition access control technology from Alcatraz AI.

The problem

"We were looking for a biometric [system] so that we could get people back in-house specifically, in and out of the various lock spaces," said Christian Lau, chief technology officer at LAFC.

One option was to get fingerprint scanners, but due to COVID-19 many players didn't want their fingerprints used for access points anymore, Lau said.

The players felt that placing their fingers on a scanner would contribute to the spread of COVID-19, since multiple people would use the scanner.

Another option was a retinal system, but that was too cumbersome because it required people to stop and scan their eyes, he continued.

The best approach, then, was a facial recognition access control system, the team decided. After researching the technology, Lau came across Alcatraz AI's autonomous access system: the Rock.         

Alcatraz AI and the Rock

Alcatraz AI is a facial authentication vendor that uses facial recognition technology to power an autonomous access control product for organizations looking to replace the traditional badging system for accessing buildings.

The Rock, an access control platform, includes three sensors that are used to create a 3D image of a person's face. That image is then attached to a person's badge number instead of their face and is used to create effortless entry when the person goes in and out of buildings.

Image being captured by the Rock
The Rock creates a 3-D image of a person's face, which is then tied to their badge number.

The individual can easily enter a building without their badge, since the system recognizes the features of their face.

The Rock is unlike other facial recognition or biometric products in that it's not storing any personally identifiable information (PII), said Alcatraz AI CEO Tina D'Agostin.

"We don't have anyone's face in our database. We're not looking at demographics. We don't know any personal identifiable information about you. It's a 3D image that's converted to a digital hash," D'Agostin said. "Our technology is not storing any PII passing through that badge number, but it's very highly secure, encrypted and a completely passive experience."

The secure and non-intrusive features of the Rock were exactly what LAFC needed, Lau said.

From a security standpoint, moving to a face identity system protects against "tailgating," when someone follows another person into a building without swiping a badge or showing a form of identification, Lau said.

The onboarding process

The onboarding experience of the Rock was easy, Lau said.

We don't have anyone's face in our database. We're not looking at demographics. We don't know any personal identifiable information about you.
Tina D'AgostinCEO, Alcatraz AI

LAFC already was using the traditional HID readers (human interface device protocol) or scanners that many use to swipe into locations. Alcatraz AI was able integrate the Rock facial recognition access control technology into that system.

As users scan their cards to enter the facilities, the Rock takes a snapshot of their faces. This is done three times throughout the course of a day, and users become automatically onboarded based on the system.

This was easier compared to other facial recognition technologies that require users to provide an image of their face and set up other systems with the human resources department or another department manually, Lau said.

Privacy concerns

While most of LAFC's staff and players were fine with onboarding and didn't protest using the Rock, some were concerned about privacy, Lau said.

To address that issue, Lau explained to skeptics that the system is an encrypted end-to-end snapshot of a person and that the Rock identifies them by the contours of their face, and not based on their actual face.

"It's a very anonymous thing, which can confuse people because they think their face is their identity … but it's literally like a topology of your face that we line up with a profile," he continued. "it's looking at the contours of your nose, and your lips, your chin, eyebrows, the position of your eyes -- that kind of thing."

For those who don't want to use the facial authentication access control system, they can continue to use their keycard, Lau said. Employees were able to opt out if they wanted to.

According to Alcatraz AI, everyone who uses its facial authentication products has the option to opt in or out.

"The concern associated with facial recognition is that it's done in a public setting without you opting in … and then being matched against the database somewhere," D'Agostin said. "And in our scenario … you understand you're opting in. It's being done with your knowledge."

Another challenge LAFC faced with onboarding is that due to mask requirements, many users had to pull down their masks so the system could scan their face.

Ultimately, all 30 staff members who work at the stadium decided to opt in and have now successfully onboarded with the system.

The problem with the sun

While most of LAFC's staff members are using the Rock at the training facility, there is a problem Lau said he hopes Alcatraz AI will fix with a new outdoor feature of the Rock the vendor plans on rolling out.

Since most of the access points at the training complex connect to the field, most of the players and training staff spend 80% to 90%of their day at the training facility and then access the stadium as needed.

But the current version of the Rock is challenging to use outdoors due to sun glare. So, LAFC hopes the outdoor-rated version of the Rock -- which blocks the sun -- will fix that problem.

"The outdoor product is really compelling to us because we just need the players to have that ability to do that natural walk-by image," Lau said.

Alcatraz AI plans to release that version later this summer.

Other than LAFC, Alcatraz AI works with a few branches of the U.S. government and several Fortune 2,000 companies, according to the vendor.

The vendor did not disclose the cost of the Rock but said that it sells the Rock through channel partners.

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