As Mike Vance approaches the glass door that leads to RealNetworks’ engineering office, he smiles slightly at a small camera mounted in front of him. Click. The door unlocks, responding to a command from software powering the camera that recognized Vance’s face and confirmed his identity.
Vance, a senior director of product management at the Seattle tech company, leads the team that created Secure, Accurate Facial Recognition — or SAFR, pronounced “safer” — a technology that the company began offering free to K-12 schools this summer.
It took three years, 8 million faces and more than 8 billion data points to develop the technology, which can identify a face with near perfect accuracy. The short-term goal, RealNetworks executives say, is increased school safety.
“There’s a lot of benefit for schools understanding who’s coming and going,” Vance said.
The software is already in use at one Seattle school, and RealNetworks is in talks to expand it to several others across the country. Looking ahead, RealNetworks — known for video- and music-streaming software introduced in the early 2000s — plans to sell SAFR to various industries, though the company is staying completely mum on the details for now.
The introduction of the technology has thrust RealNetworks into the center of a field that is growing quickly as software gets better at identifying faces. But growing along with it are privacy concerns and rising calls for regulation — even from the technology companies that are inventing the biometric software.
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