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How a startup uses a facial recognition engine during COVID-19

Sentry Interactive uses an AI facial recognition system in its Tower platform, a device that enables organizations to help people safely and securely enter buildings.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sentry Interactive, an organization that provides no-contact entry to businesses, switched from just helping people to enter buildings to performing COVID-19 screenings.

With the goal of enhancing customers' interactions with access control and visitor management, the vendor seeks to create "an experience that everybody that enters a building can feel really good about," said Kent Kubie, vice president of sales and marketing at Sentry Interactive.

Formerly known as Sentry Kiosk, the Austin, Texas-based startup's Sentry Interactive Tower recognizes people's faces and can not only pinpoint who they are but their reason for entering a location.

The Tower platform includes cameras, sensors, microphones and a facial recognition engine that engages users trying to enter a facility or building with a digital receptionist that talks to them.

But with the start of the pandemic, Sentry Interactive needed to include a facial recognition engine that was sensitive to face masks. The company turned to CyberLink, a multimedia software and facial recognition technology vendor, and its FaceMe product.

SI Interactive Tower
With the Interactive Tower, Sentry Interactive tries to create experiences for its customers.

CyberLink FaceMe facial recognition engine

FaceMe is an AI-based facial recognition engine that detects masks and supports different OSes, including Windows, Linux, Android and iOS.

CyberLink developed FaceMe in 2018 as a software development kit (SDK), and enabled deep learning on the platform using Intel's OpenVino -- Open Visual Inference and Neural Network Optimization -- toolkit. The toolkit enables developers to inference deep learning models faster and to create computer vision applications.

FaceMe identifies faces and the improper use of masks even when someone is not looking directly into the camera. When a person's face mask isn't covering their nose and mouth, the engine can identify that condition and ask them to correct it.

We didn't find any other [facial recognition engine in] the marketplace that was sensitive to [masks].
Kent KubieVice president of sales and marketing, Sentry Interactive

"We didn't find any other [facial recognition engine in] the marketplace that was sensitive to [masks], which we thought was very beneficial to our clients because they [had concerns] from a risk and compliance standpoint," Kubie said. "They needed to ensure that everybody that walked into their organization at a facility was adhering to all the right protocols."

FaceMe is also easy to integrate, he said.

Because FaceMe is available as an SDK, IT professionals at Sentry Interactive could integrate the engine into the Tower without coding, he said. The product is also easy to run in the cloud and flexible enough so developers could make changes as needed.

"If we have to make a change to the platform, like [when] we come out with a new model and a customer wants that new model, we don't have to go and recode everything again for that model," Kubie said. "We can run this across multiple platforms. And if somebody starts with one [model] and they want to migrate to another, it's very seamless for them."

New FaceMe Platform

On April 27, CyberLink released a new web-based version of its product called FaceMe Platform. The platform is aimed at developers looking to work the engine into any system, workflow or IoT framework.

It contains Hypertext Transfer Protocol-based facial recognition APIs, as well as 1:1 face match, 1:many face search, video analytics, image quality check and people grouping. A central management console that enables developers to view CyberLink's records of face matches and face searches is also included.

Facial recognition, privacy and bias concerns

Since it uses a facial recognition engine, Sentry Interactive is sometimes questioned about what it does with the data of the faces the engine detects, according to Kubie.

The company explains to customers that the engine doesn't capture the image of the face, which is another reason FaceMe appealed to Sentry Interactive, he said.

"There's absolutely no way to recreate your face with that algorithm because it's encrypted," Kubie said. "It's data points on your face versus your picture of yourself, so you can't be spoofed.

"We're not storing an image of you. We are storing an encrypted algorithm that if somebody actually got it, they couldn't really do anything with it," he continued.

As with most facial recognition and biometric systems, a criticism skeptics often bring up is racial bias. While Sentry Interactive claims it has never faced that criticism from customers, CyberLink said the color of someone's skin does not affect the engine because FaceMe includes a database of images from all over the world.

"That's never been an issue for our SDK," said Terry Schulenberg, CyberLink's vice president of business development. "The only thing I've ever seen is misidentifying male or female, and whether or not they have a beard. Poor lighting can cause a dark African American female to appear to have a beard when they do not because of the shadow."

CyberLink charges customers on a per-camera basis for FaceMe. The license for one camera can range from $50 to $250.

Sentry Interactive didn't disclose how much it's paying for the facial recognition engine, but representatives said the technology didn't result in an appreciable price hike for customers.

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