Facial recognition technology used at Seattle private school

SEATTLE - There continues to be a healthy debate on the use of facial recognition technology. But one school in Seattle has embraced it, saying it keeps staff and students safer. Plus it’s more convenient for parents.

You used to need a key card if you needed to get into the University Child Development School in Seattle. Or somebody needed to buzz you in to unlock the gate during school hours. But since about March of this year, all people need now is their face.

“If they’re in the system, it will identify their face and unlock the door, open the door for them,” said Paul Hoy, director of technology for UCDS.

The system is called SAFR, which stands for Secure, Accurate Facial Recognition. Created by Seattle-based Real Networks, the facial recognition system is currently installed at UCDS and about 12 other schools nationwide.

“It’s 99. 84% accurate, so it`s almost perfectly accurate,” said Mike Vance, senior director of project management for SAFR at Real Networks.

It took about three years for Real Networks to develop the system.

“Originally we used it in our commercial product which is called Real Times. It helps you identify people in your personal connection of photos and videos,” said Vance.

Vance said for SAFR, there is no hardware to buy. The programs are available for school’s to download on the internet.

“Any camera that’s been sold in the last 10-plus years that has an IP address, we can tap into that and then just analyze the footage. So that you don’t have to install anything new,” said Vance.

By using the facial recognition technology, Vance said that SAFR will let pre-approved people into a gate or a door while allowing staff to concentrate on people that are unfamiliar.

“It’s free to individual schools so any school within the U.S. or Canada can install it within their four walls,” he said.

However, if a school district were interested in SAFR, it’ll cost $50 per camera, per month, said Vance. At individual schools who have SAFR,  pictures are typically stored on internal servers at the school. But for a district, it will likely be stored on a cloud-based server, said Vance.

“The only thing that we get back is uptime, quality of service, is the system working, things like that,” said Vance.

Basically, once SAFR is installed, an iPad or similar device is needed to capture a person’s face. You then type in your name and your child's name. After that,  it goes into the system where a school administrator will double check to make sure your identity and approve you. The system identifies people by using points on your face.

“It uses just geometry to match people. It uses a thousand vectors and points on the face. Each person’s facial signature is totally unique,” said Vance.

But is it secure?

“All the facial signatures are encrypted, they only make sense to our systems. So even if you hacked into our cloud, and hacked into three other layers of security, you’d only be able to get out some gibberish that can’t be used in anybody else’s system to identify the individual,” said Vance.

Real Networks believes the point of SAFR is to give complete control to the schools who have it.

For UCDS, it's an added layer of security and convenience.

“It’s an opt-in system so parents can choose to participate. We have about 325 kids in the school, and over 300 people signed up to participate,” said Melissa Chittenden, assistant head of the school. “All schools are looking at that vigilance of making sure that they’re feeling as secure as possible on their campus, so this certainly adds another layer to that.”

St. Therese School in Seattle also uses the SAFR program. According to Vance, about 200 schools throughout the country have shown interested in the system.