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Biometrics could make attending large event venues a whole new ballgame

From personalization to pay-with-your-face
Biometrics could make attending large event venues a whole new ballgame
 

Large events make up one of the market areas most likely to experience a surge in biometrics adoption in 2022, with early adopters reporting successes and their technology providers positioning themselves to serve a growing number of interested potential customers.

Some providers, like Trueface, have come to the space from a facial recognition core, and quickly moved into enabling payments, as in its partnership with TendedBar. Trueface was acquired by airport technology provider Pangiam in 2021, naturally putting emphasis on touchless access control.

Others, like Wicket, come from the audience engagement side, providing biometrics and analytics to enable venue operators and their partners to know their customers better, and are adding in integrations for features like touchless access control.

A relatively early player in the space is Blink Identity, which has been directly addressing the growing event market since well before the pandemic began.

Also targeting the space are biometric systems integrators like Arana Security, which brings hardware from leading scanner-makers together with flexible and customized software solutions. The company recently launched its modular BioWave solution, and Sales Director Ali Nasser tells Biometric Update in an interview that stadiums and large event venues are the main target market for the solutions’ payments module.

The needs of customers in the market appear to be just as varied.

Retailers, large vendors, and brands want to know “who’s there,” Wicket CEO and Co-founder Sanjay Manandhar tells Biometric Update in an interview.

“Especially in a purchased-ticket environment,” he explains. “The purchaser may or may not be there, or the purchaser may have purchased five tickets; so, who are the other four.”

Trueface CEO Shaun Moore, despite his company’s background with event payments and Pangiam’s access control expertise, calls the market “a more exploratory environment.”

At one point, it looked like thermal cameras would be widely adopted wherever people gather, but Blink CEO Mary Haskett told Biometric Update by email in August, 2020 that temperature screening may make sense in specific use cases, but would largely fall by the wayside.

At the time, she said the focus in the market was shifting from “providing an easy-to-use, high-throughput entrance into venues” to keeping employees a safe distance from customers. Haskett’s vision has since borne out in the market.

Gate-to-seat or one application at a time

The pandemic and concerns about shared surfaces and physical distancing appear to have changed the conditions of the market, more than the overall trend.

“Previously, we were competing with a person stopping and having a ticket scanned or a wristband put on,” Haskett wrote last year. “It’s hard to do that while staying 6 feet away.”

Most providers, like Wicket, will deploy their computer vision technologies individually or in different combinations according to customer needs. Manandhar says it can deploy “the whole gamut,” or perhaps ticketing and analytics. Some customers may just want to deploy Wicket for social distance compliance, and some for physical access control, he says. Wicket hooks into the existing system and provides the algorithms and software.

It is already integrated locking mechanisms and ticketing platforms including Ticketmaster and tickets.com. “So if you’re using one of these top two ticketing platforms,” Manandhar says, “you’re ready to go.”

Next, he says, are payments.

Ticketmaster parent Live Nation is a backer of Blink Identity, which said it could identify 60 people walking into a venue per minute back in mid-2018.

Although the TendedBar partnership predates the pandemic, having been tested in 2019, Pangiam and Trueface are increasingly engaging with event venues as, like many other touchless technology market areas, COVID-19 increased customer interest.

“We’ve kind of gotten thrust into this entertainment event space because the market was demanding a solution via technology that could help bring people back,” Moore says.

Trueface has been adapting in real time to what the market needs over the past year and a half, he says. “We saw a pretty significant market need that we have a solution that can help solve the problem.”

Arana Security’s BioWave solution is offered in three modules for access control, time and attendance, and payments. The payments module also provides age verification, based on information gathered from the end-user during enrollment.

Fight for the lineup

Opposition to the adoption of biometrics for events is seen in reactions like Fight for the Future’s campaign against the use of facial recognition and other biometrics at concerts. The group turned its attention to the deployment of Amazon One devices at the fames Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado this year, joined by Tom Morello and several other rockers.

There are regulatory hurdles in many places as well, with France’s regulator ruling a live facial recognition to catch banned spectators would violate the law. However, that announcement occurred just as a trial of face biometrics for employee access control began in Spain. The U.S. market seems much more receptive.

Just before FftF’s campaign launched in October, Idemia’s Mobile ID was selected for ticketless event entry through a biometrics-protected app by the University of Deleware. The app works with state’s mobile driver’s licenses (mDLs).

Just weeks earlier, Amazon partnered up with digital ticketing company AXS, and Clear partnered with Tappit for cashless payments. Amazon’s approach with AXS also seems similar to the complete event experience IBT, relaunched this year, is taking.

Legitimate concerns about surveillance and data privacy are answered by edge computing and the same kind of data security measures used in airport deployments, including data minimization.

Not all activists opposing the technology’s adoption appear to be listening, but customers are, according to Manandhar.

Privacy may be a third of the first conversation, he says, “and then they realize what we’re about.” Wicket’s technology does not record event attendees, so cannot threaten the privacy of people after the fact with forensic facial recognition.

“I don’t want too much PII (personally identifiable information),” Manandhar explains. “I just want enough to make the thing go.”

The benefits of edge processing are also seen in the speed at which people can be matched and enter their event. “If you’re waiting at the door, one second is an eternity,” Manandhar points out.

Arana, likewise, keeps all biometric information only on devices, rather than the cloud or on-premise central server.

Manandhar is not surprised by people’s reticence, even as their questions are met with reasonable answers. He compares the adoption curve to that of transponders in cars. The technology was introduced around the turn of the millennium, but adoption was slow at first, and it took until around 2015 for it to reach stable levels. People were naturally hesitant to trust the limitations of data collection and transmission he says – the same fundamental issue behind most concerns about event biometrics.

Ecosystem in development

The desire to limit how much data businesses are collecting results in a deployment model in which partnerships are critical.

Biometrics providers in general are taking an approach that keeps biometric information separate from other data, held by the same kind of company that normally handles that other data.

“BioWave Pay doesn’t manage or store any credit card details, it’s all facilitated with the payment gateway,” Arana’s Nasser explains. “So, what we’ve done is integrated the BioWave Pay with different payment gateways such as Stripe and Cardstream, and we’re also adding different payment gateways to the system every day.”

Similarly, the deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars was signed by Trueface’s partner TendedBar.

In addition to seeking clients to prove the technology’s value to, and input from those clients, Moore says Trueface is always looking for partners. Those partnerships are almost all that is necessary to use the same technologies for events that are deployed elsewhere for similar applications, such as the airport environment that is Pangiam’s traditional core, or the access control systems Trueface is used in. While he says Pangiam’s integration of facial recognition is proceeding at a measured pace, the parent’s related technologies are being quickly adopted and perfected very quickly in other access control environments.

“I think it opens additional doors in the event space just because the technology’s very similar,” More states. “Whether you’re waiting in line for TSA or waiting in line to get into a concert, or you want to use your face as a way to board your plane, or as your ticket to Lollapalooza, I think there are a lot of similarities.”

Varying degrees of security are involved, but Moore argues that his company is already providing biometric technology at the highest level. Trueface continues to be heavily focused on the U.S., but operating internationally within the larger Pangiam family, and was already in 12 countries before the acquisition, Moore says.

Wicket considers its role to include working with its customers to make sure fans go through the workflow and opt in, and ensure they provide a good selfie for biometric enrollment.

The demand evident in an increasing number of deployments has been met by more competition, in the form of launches, integrations, and innovation. As more venue operators and teams adopt and expand their use of the technology, more fans will use it, and see others doing so.  The next year may set a baseline reputation for people using their biometrics at events, and potentially touch off a virtuous cycle of interest, adoption and appreciation of the benefits by fans.

“It’s happening, we’ll never go back,” Manandhar predicts. “It’s going to be like my kids, when I say map, they think GPS. We think map, like a foldable map and GPS, they only think GPS. That’s what the future of facial recognition access is like.”

“Your face as your ticket across the board is likely more than a few years out, but your face as your ticket for VIP entry could be two years out,” Moore speculates.

“The trend lines are phenomenal,” Manandhar observes. “Once people realize that there isn’t an ulterior motive or secondary use, they are not going to go back.”

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