The Future for Facial Biometrics: Mainstream by 2006?

A Q&A with Jonathan Forrester of Systems Integrator and Biometrics System Developer AWT Inc. recently met with Jonathan Forrester, director of marketing for AWT Inc., a systems integrator and biometrics product designer in Atlanta, Ga., to get an inside scoop on the company's facial biometrics system.

His company, AWT, has had some notable success in using facial biometrics for access control and identity confirmation, notably in Cobb County, Ga., where the local prison is using the company's technology for prisoner identity assurance during enrollment and release. SIW interviewed Forrester about the status of today's markets for facial biometrics, what to expect in terms of coming technology, and how issues of privacy play into acceptance of the technology.

Q: Walking the aisles at ASIS we saw a lot more facial recognition technology than in the past. Is this technology ready to step into the limelight? If you had to guess, what year would you put down on when facial biometrics will be considered "mainstream" in the world of security?

A: Facial biometrics will be considered "mainstream" when users understand the differences between 2D and 3D technologies and see the 3D applications starting to take hold in the marketplace over the older 2D systems. The more successful implementations of facial biometrics that the security personnel see in real-world applications, the more it will be accepted in the marketplace. If I had to guess as to what year, I would say "mainstream" will occur by 2006.

Q: How long do you think we have before the American public is ready to comfortably accept CCTV in public areas?

A: The American public is already getting used to having CCTV in their daily lives -- from your visit to the local convenience store, at any ATM, at the supermarket, at the local Wal-Mart and in metropolitan areas at various intersections. The number of CCTV cameras is estimated to double every 18 months in the U.S. alone, so people are getting more used to having their picture taken every day. For the most part, these systems are rarely being monitored or recorded, providing only a minor deterrent against incidents. However, there are some people out there that will never be comfortable with them.

Q: What has been occurring in terms of facial biometrics in recent years? What has been changing in terms of technology and where this technology is being implemented?

A: Facial biometrics have had a number of highly publicized application failures in recent years, notably at Ybor City and Boston Logan Airport. From those few failures, facial biometrics has received a black eye from which we in the facial biometrics business are still recovering from. In terms of technology changes, artificial neural networks are being utilized in order to store more data in a smaller amount of space. In conjunction with faster computers, it is making facial biometrics a viable second layer of authentication for physical access control.

Q: Corporate security directors have to balance budgets with risk and return on security investments, so as a group, security directors have not been overly willing to jump at new technology immediately when it's announced. That said, there is a great number of facilities that could use this type of technology because of special needs. What do you think the top markets are for high-end facial recognition?

A: The top markets for facial recognition include: access control for employees, financial applications to prevent identity theft, healthcare, hospitality industry and the insurance industry for fraud prevention. Most of these organizations will stay with the status quo until they have an incident which involves loss of life or property - they will then be forced to upgrade their security in order to prevent another occurrence.

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