Look Ma—No Hands! How biometrics will drive the post-COVID technology world
This is a guest post by George Brostoff, CEO of SensibleVision.
We live in a world of touch, and just about every piece of technology we use requires at least some physical contact. Even “hands-free” devices like Alexa have buttons. This is nothing new, of course: the very earliest computers required constant interaction by their operators, and if one looks at technical progress as a continuum, the latest iPhone is really just an advanced version of an abacus. Same concept.
And now we can’t touch anything.
Thanks to COVID, we’re practicing social distancing, wearing masks and gloves at the grocery store, and wiping down our Amazon deliveries with industrial solvents. Physical contact—or even proximity—are no longer acceptable. We’re working from home and treating even our closest friends like pariahs. Even lepers get colonies. And all of a sudden, all of those PIN pads, ATMs, elevator buttons, interactive kiosks, and touchscreen computers are the modern equivalent of vermin-covered rats during the bubonic plague. We’ve built our entire technical landscape on hardware that will literally kill us if we use it.
This is where biometrics can pave the way to a future that is both safe and functional. We’re not going back to Atari 2600s and landlines because of COVID. We need to move forward with new technologies while at the same time eliminating the need for touch. Biometrics, including facial recognition and other tools, can not only provide a high level of security, but also allow functions that are currently enabled by touch to be 100 percent hands-free.
So, what does this look like in the real world? For starters, all of the technology needed to create this touchless infrastructure exists today. We’re not looking at a five-year development cycle to bring theoretical products to market. Let’s look at something as basic as going to a meeting in a downtown office tower. Between the time that you arrive at the front door to the time that you get to the conference room, you have probably touched 5-10 different surfaces, including the front door handle, the wayfinder kiosk, the sign-in pad, the elevator up button, the floor button in the elevator, the door to the upstairs private lobby, and the upstairs reception tablet. And each one of these surfaces is touched by hundreds of people every single day. No amount of cleaning can keep these areas safe, because as soon as they are disinfected, a whole new group of people repeats the process.
Each one of the steps I just listed can be replaced with a biometrics-driven approach. These can be as simple as using apps that pair the ability to schedule meetings (like Outlook does millions of times a day) with a facial “fingerprint” that lets people use their face to gain access to every permitted area without touching a tablet or signing a paper log. In practical terms, this could involve arriving at a building, using a camera to verify your identity, and being routed to an elevator that will take you to the floor you need to visit. If this seems far-fetched, remember that many buildings are already using button-free elevators to restrict access and optimize the efficiency of vertical travel by directing visitors to elevators that are pre-programmed to go to specific floors. This would be a simple, seamless integration.
No one knows when—or how—the COVID pandemic will resolve, but one thing we do know is that the new normal will be very different from the world we in North America just left in March. And in the new world of reduced physical contact, biometrics can lead the way to increase public safety while helping to restart the economy.
About the author
George Brostoff is CEO of SensibleVision, which makes facial-recognition software. Brostoff has seven U.S. patents and has developed technology used by Dell and other major companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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